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School tax rate might drop a little

The proposed Pinellas School Board budget also seeks to raise teacher salaries and enrich some academic programs.

By KELLY RYAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 26, 2000


LARGO -- Pinellas School Board members on Tuesday agreed that the property tax rate should drop slightly this year as part of a budget that boosts teacher salaries and enhances reading and algebra programs.

The district's budget staff presented the 2000-2001 budget plan at a public hearing, which drew an audience filled mostly with school employees. Only one person spoke during the hearing, and he said the budget is too big.

Board members on Tuesday did not vote to approve the entire budget; they just voted on a cap for the tax rate.

Over the next six weeks, board members will study the $1-billion spending plan and consider further changes. A final vote and public hearing on the budget is at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at district headquarters in Largo.

The proposed property tax rate for the upcoming year -- $8.433 for each $1,000 in taxable property value -- is just lower than the rate levied last year, $8.666.

Under the proposed tax rate, someone with a $100,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $632.48, down from $649.95 last year. That assumes the value of the home remained the same both years. "A number of the board's priorities were included and funded," said board chairman Max Gessner.

The budget includes better pay for full-time and substitute teachers, two extra training days for teachers and more money for school fix-up projects.

Board member Lee Benjamin requested that the district study whether school lunch prices should go up to meet cafeteria costs. Lunch prices have not gone up for years, Benjamin said.

Elementary school students pay $1.25; middle and high school students pay $1.50. Adults pay $2.25. The district's food service program, which employs about 1,260 workers, is self-supporting.

Last year, more than 10.1-million lunches and 2.1-million breakfasts were served.

School Board member Nancy Bostock agreed such a study would be valid so the district could consider raising salaries for food service workers.

"We're already doing that," Superintendent Howard Hinesley said, referring to an ongoing study of salaries.

If the board decides to raise prices, the increase would not go into effect until the 2001-2002 school year.

In other news, the School Board:

-- Asked Hinesley to study whether school campuses would be more secure if side doorways or gates required electronic keycards to enter.

-- Approved a $19-million plan to build a new, larger Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg. When finished, the new school will house more than 1,400 students.

-- Appointed Susan Boyd the new principal of Azalea Elementary School in St. Petersburg. Boyd replaces Brenda Clark, who retired in June.

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