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Penny tax wins over parents

Many with kids in Pasco schools believe the sales tax will benefit the district and are ready to campaign for it.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published September 27, 2003

LAND O'LAKES - On Friday morning, Leslie Spock was skeptical about whether a March 9 vote to raise sales taxes would benefit Pasco County schools.

By Friday afternoon, after hearing a two-hour presentation, the mother of two was considering campaigning for the tax.

"I'm much more convinced that it's a good thing," Spock said on her way out of a working luncheon designed to recruit and organize parent activists into the Penny for Pasco camp.

About 50 parents and other Pasco County residents gathered in a Land O'Lakes school district meeting room Friday to hear from education officials, the County Commission chairman and leaders from the pro-tax Pasco's Citizens Committee.

If approved, the penny sales tax would bring in $31-million annually, with the school district and county each getting 45 percent and the rest going to local municipalities. The tax is intended to address countywide growth issues through schools and transportation.

"We can't do it without you," Pasco County superintendent John Long told those gathered. The "critical mistake" in a failed 1995 sales tax campaign, he said, was a lack of significant grass roots involvement.

Just three days after the March 9 election date became official, Pasco Citizens Committee member Michelle Perry began signing up volunteers to become key campaign organizers in each of nine regions.

Most of those gathered seemed sold on the tax effort from the start. They were invited because they were active mothers and fathers with children in Pasco schools. They were interested grandparents and business people looking to participate.

One person, Dennis Smith of Wesley Chapel, said he arrived opposed to the tax and left opposed to the tax, despite the presentation.

Smith said the solution does not address long-term growth issues.

The school district would use the money on facilities needs, including building 12 schools to accommodate Pasco's exploding school-aged population.

A complete list of school-by-school projects was still being finalized Friday, but an early draft posted on the wall of the meeting room caught parents' attention as they departed.

Tammy Wooten, a parent volunteer who was recently hired at Lacoochee Elementary, said she wanted assurance the east side of the county would not be ignored.

"The thing I worry about is that the schools that are not in the areas of growth might not be given the same consideration," she said.

Organizers armed the volunteers with information packets that included four pages of "sales tax speaker notes," absentee ballot request forms with "Don't shortchange kids" written across them, and sample text for phone campaigning.

Perry, Long and Ray Gadd - the school district's point man for the referendum - spent a lot of time distinguishing between the rights of parents to actively campaign and the legal conflict-of-interest restrictions barring school employees from campaigning on school time with school money.

"As a parent, I can stand in the car loop the day of the election and hold a sign that says to remember to vote yes," Perry said. "Employees can't."

Overall, organizers were calling Friday's effort a success.

"People were more enthusiastic than I thought they would be," Perry said. "I was excited by the fact that they were so ready to go."

- Rebecca Catalanello covers education in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. Her e-mail address is rcatalanello@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 27, 2003, 02:09:25]


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