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Groups fight tax proposal
The school district and employees' union work to educate on its impact on education.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 15, 2008
LAND O'LAKES - With voting already under way, local Pasco school organizations are trying to make sure people understand exactly what Amendment 1 to change the state property tax structure means, from their perspective.
The school district and the employees' union have released slide presentations designed to give the district staff, as well as their family and friends, the details of the proposal and an idea of what its impact will be on education if it passes.
And whether you look at the low-key school district version, which twice states that it's not advocating a position, or the more politically charged union effort that clearly opposes the initiative, one message comes through pointedly: Education stands to suffer.
"We tried to be as factual as we could ... without the emotion in it," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said of the district effort. "But the facts are what the facts are."
Specifically, if voters support what amounts to a $20 monthly savings in property taxes, the Pasco County School District could lose $67.5-million over the next five years. And, as the slide presentation points out, 85 percent of the budget goes toward salaries and benefits.
"The reduction to the district's general fund that is being proposed in this amendment will have a significant impact on the district's ability to maintain salaries, offer competitive benefit packages and keep pace with school construction," the district presentation states.
The more highly charged union version opens with a political cartoon showing a Trojan horse labeled "property tax reform" sitting outside a suburban style home, with the homeowner shouting, "Honey! Come see what's at the door! A gift from the Legislature!"
Beneath it appears the sarcastic comment from the union: "Drumroll please. Brought to you by the same people who brought you property insurance reform."
The presentation does not purport to be neutral, using charged language to talk about the "dire financial situation" that schools will find themselves in if voters approve the amendment.
"We negotiated the best raise possible considering that the School Board had been cut $6.6-million. Passage of this amendment will most certainly adversely affect future raises," the union states. "Our elected leaders profess to want a world class education system, yet they continue to underfund public education. Florida languishes near the bottom in nearly every category related to education funding and shamefully ranks 50th in expenditures for elementary and secondary schools per $1,000 of personal income."
Each group has asked school-level leaders to show their materials to all district employees and is encouraging everyone to vote.
"We want people to be informed," union negotiator Jim Ciadella said. "It's education information to tell people what we believe the impact of the amendment, should it pass, will be."
Fiorentino, who plans to vote against the amendment, said when government - school district or city or county - scales back services, it often takes longer to bring the services back than it did to cut them. The amendment could adversely affect all areas of local government, she said, and voters at the very least should understand that before they vote.
"It's not just about the school system," she said. "It's about the community."
The school district presentation is being distributed throughout the schools and could appear on the district Web site this week. The union presentation is available on the union web site, useponline.org.
A multimedia campaign supporting the amendment, featuring Gov. Charlie Crist as the primary spokesman, also is under way.
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.