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Trimmed-back budget okayed

The Hillsborough School Board approved a $2.1-billion budget Tuesday. The property tax rate will go down slightly.

MELANIE AVE
Published July 30, 2003

TAMPA - The Hillsborough School Board approved a tentative budget of $2.1-billion Tuesday and a small decrease in its property tax rate for the new school year.

They also agreed to continue imposing a levy for widespread construction and renovation projects that, among other things, will help buy property for five new schools.

Thanks to increasing home values in the county, board members okayed a millage rate of $8.48 per $1,000 assessed value, a decrease of about 12 cents from last year.

The rate included continuing a $2 levy per $1,000 value for capital costs, is the maximum allowed by law. The tax will pay off debt and generate $96-million for new school buses and numerous construction and renovation projects.

The rate cut means the owner of a home valued at $100,000 with a homestead exemption will pay about $9 less in taxes, or $636 instead of last year's $645.

This year's budget represents an 11 percent increase in revenues over last year.

Still district officials have made numerous spending cuts in recent weeks, saying the additional dollars are being swallowed by a state mandate to reduce class sizes, the opening of eight new schools and an increase in their retirement system costs.

Faced with a shortfall, the board has slashed about $35-million in programs, such as the middle school after-school program, and personnel, including 108 kindergarten aide positions.

A final budget hearing and vote is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at the School Administrative Center.

In addition to the budget, superintendent Earl Lennard briefed board members on next week's first day of school, Aug. 6.

Construction of six of the eight new schools is on target, the exceptions being Schmidt Elementary in the Brandon area and Muller Elementary School near the University of South Florida. About 1,200 new teachers have been hired, leaving about 100 vacancies. And a total of 179,466 students are expected, an increase of 5,375 students.

"I really believe we'll break 180,000 this year," Lennard said.

In addition to the budget, the board extended Lennard's contract for another year after giving him an average 93 percent rating on his annual evaluation. Lennard earns $187,635. His contract states he can receive the same raise as teachers, which is still under negotiation between the district and union.

"Congratulations Dr. Lennard," said School Board chairwoman Carol Kurdell, "You can stop sweating over there. We're going to try and keep you as long as possible."

Most of his evaluation by the seven-member board showed glowing remarks, but several board members criticized Lennard for poor internal communications and not promoting fairness and equity.

In other business, the board suspended two teachers without pay and fired two employees in the grounds department for stealing district property.

Suspended were Colson Elementary School first grade teacher Cynthia Foy for unprofessional conduct and Pinecrest Elementary School art teacher Linda Lindquist for refusing to obey policies. Foy, 46, has worked for the district since 1986 and Lindquist, 54, since 1989.

Grounds workers who were terminated were Bobby Wingate, 39, who was charged with theft and entered a plea agreement in June, and George Pittman, 55, who district investigators allege took surplus supplies.

- Melanie Ave can be reached at 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com

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