tampabay.com

Taxes for schools focus of hearings

The school system plans to ask taxpayers for $90-million more than last year to cover increased operating costs.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published August 1, 2006


LARGO - The Pinellas school system plans to ask taxpayers for nearly $90-million more than it did last year, an increase of about 18 percent.

That and other aspects of the district's finances will be discussed tonight at separate public hearings on the 2006-07 budget and this year's property tax levy. The School Board will convene the hearings at 6:45 p.m. at district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo.

The school system's tax rate makes up the largest portion of property tax bills in Pinellas. A final set of public hearings on the budget and taxes is scheduled for Sept. 12.

The district's proposed property tax rate is down to $8.20 for every $1,000 of assessed value - the 11th rate decrease in the last 12 years.

Still, tax bills are headed up. Because Pinellas property values have increased a whopping 20 percent, the district plans to collect $88.8-million more than it did last year.

There are three reasons for the added spending:

* A $36.5-million, or 7-percent, hike in the biggest single portion of the operating budget, classroom instruction, which will cover teacher raises.

* An $11-million surge in costs to operate district buildings, which reflects rising energy and insurance rates.

* A continued increase in school bus costs because of fuel price increases and the school choice plan. The bus system's budget will rise by $6.7-million, or more than 17 percent.

A budget summary released by the district also points to another trend: Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature continue to shift the burden for education costs from state revenues, which rely on sales taxes, to the county level, where the revenue source is property taxes.

In fiscal year 2000-01, 50 percent of Pinellas' education revenue came from state sources. In 2006-07, the state's share will be down to 38.5 percent, requiring property taxpayers to accept a greater role in school funding.