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Schools set to adopt budget
The numbers are in but the board doesn't know exactly what the figures will mean in the end.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 11, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - If you have something to say about the way the Pasco School Board spends money, tonight is your last chance before the board seals its annual spending plan.
The School Board is set to formally adopt its 2007-08 budget after a public hearing at 6 p.m. Taxpayers will see the district's tax rate decrease by 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value.
That's about $40 in savings for the owner of a $225,000 home with a homestead exemption - if the assessed value has not increased.
The district can afford to cut the rate because the county's property base has increased by almost $4-billion. In all, the district expects to spend $1.2-billion, the bulk of which will go toward general operations $537-million and capital projects ($403-million).
But that's on paper only. The state has projected a $1.1-billion revenue shortfall, and education stands to take a big hit when lawmakers gather to reduce spending.
That endeavor remains unscheduled, as Senate and House leaders, unable to reach consensus in early meetings, have canceled a special session that was planned for next week.
As a result, School Board members don't know exactly what the true budget will look like. Officials have speculated the Pasco school budget might be cut as much as $15-million. With enrollment rising and other costs increasing, they don't know what that will mean in the end.
For instance, they aren't sure if they can offer teacher raises or if they can fill frozen jobs. It remains unclear whether they will have to cut programs or people. A few on the board have said they want to start the conversation.
"The board and superintendent have to decide how long we are going to put off decisions," board chairwoman Marge Whaley said. From her position, she added, "We cannot wait.... To continue on hold would be foolish."
Other board members also have agitated to begin making plans for what seems inevitable. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, meanwhile, has urged patience as the district waits to see what shakes out in Tallahassee.
Before the budget hearing, the School Board has scheduled a four-hour workshop to talk about roles and responsibilities. Some board members have complained lately that the superintendent does not provide them adequate information before their meetings, and that the board does not have adequate control over policy.
Whaley said the leadership team needs to have this conversation.
"Right now, I don't think that either the board or the superintendent really understands fully where the line is," she said. "I think the superintendent steps over it. I think perhaps the board steps over it at times.... Until we are really clear about it, I don't think we can develop a good relationship or trust each other."
She expressed hope that the workshop won't devolve into name-calling and outbursts, similar to what happened in Hillsborough County when its board had a similar session.
"I'm hoping we can be dignified ... and not attack each other," Whaley said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
IF YOU GO:
The Pasco School Board budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. today in the administration building, 7205 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Building 3. A regular business meeting will follow.