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Tampa Bay referendums focus mainly on supporting local schools

Election image says Local Referendums with a blue background

Most of the measures on the November ballot are to address school funding.

There will be several referendums on the November ballot November in counties across the greater Tampa Bay region. Most will focus on supplementing funding for county public school systems.

Funding for schools will be a big issue in November, including votes to increase property taxes to help fund public schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee and Hernando counties.

Hillsborough County

Voters will get to decide on two local tax referendums — and both have major implications for the county’s schools.

One, proposed by the Hillsborough County School Board, asks to increase property taxes by $1 per every $1,000 of a property's assessed value. The funds would go toward raising teacher and staff pay.

If passed, the 1 millage property tax would cost the average homeowner about $1 a day and generate around $740 million over four years, the duration of the tax before it had to be voted on again.

The ballot referendum comes after a similar measure failed by less than 1% in 2022. A majority, or 50% +1, of voters are needed to pass the referendum.

School district staff proposes salary supplements of:

  • $6,000 each year for teachers
  • $3,000 each year for support staff
  • $6,000 each year for administrators

These projected estimated supplements would increase the income of:

  • The average teacher by 11%
  • The average support staff member by 11%
  • The average administrator by 4%

The second is a renewal of the existing half-penny sales tax, called the Community Investment Tax (CIT), which funds major capital improvement projects such as Raymond James Stadium, stormwater infrastructure, fire stations, and new school construction.

It was first was approved by Hillsborough County voters in 1996 for a period of 30 years. It expires November 30, 2026.

The sales tax was established to fund capital improvement projects and capital equipment in Hillsborough County and the cities of Plant City, Tampa, and Temple Terrace. Since the tax was approved by the voters, it has provided about $2.3 billion to fund or partially fund 757 capital improvement projects.

This extension would be for 15 years and would cut the amount of money dedicated to schools from the current 25% to 5%.

Pinellas County

The school board unanimously passeda referendum that will appear on the November ballot. It would increase property taxes throughout the county, from 50 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value up to $1 per every $1,000.

The proposal would:

  • Continue independent committee oversight of the referendum to ensure that funds are spent as voters intended
  • Change millage rate to 1.0 mill, consistent with surrounding counties
  • Recruit and retain quality teachers and support staff; preserve music, art and reading classes; and provide current technology
  • Continue and potentially increase the teacher salary supplement
  • Add salary supplement for support staff (defined as employees who are not teachers and not on the administrative salary scale)

Pinellas County voters have supported renewals of the half-mill tax since itwas first approved in 2004.

Sarasota County

Voters will vote to continue an optional local property tax for the school district, It will determine whether the district can continue to levy a 1 mill per year tax on property, equal to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value.

The 1 mill tax has been in place since 2002. For every $1,000 in-home assessment, there will be a $1 tax. (For example, on a home assessed at $300,000 with a $25,000 tax exemption, the tax will equate to $275.)

According to the Sarasota County School Board, the tax would:

  • Promote Student Achievement: Investing $33 million to provide resources and support systems that enhance student learning and academic success.
  • Additional Instruction Time: Continue the added 30 minutes of instruction per school day, equaling to 18 extra days a year.
  • Attract & Invest in High-Quality Educators: Allocating $28 million to recruit and retain talented educators, providing ongoing professional development and support.
  • Enrich Learning Experiences: Utilizing $22 million to expand access to diverse educational opportunities, including early learning, arts and music, STEM, and extracurricular activities.
  • Elevate Workforce Education: Investing $17 million in career and technical education programs, preparing students for success in the modern workforce.
  • Ensure Safe & Secure Schools: Allocating $14 million to implement safety measures and enhance campus security and funds Security Aides, Counselors, and Behavioral Specialists positions.

Hernando County

Voters will weigh in on a proposed school board referendum to decide if the current half-cent sales tax should be levied for another 10 years.

The language that voters can expect to see on the November ballot is:
“Shall the one-half-cent sales surtax currently levied in Hernando County be renewed for 10 years, to be used for new construction, reconstruction, renovation, remodeling or improvement of school facilities including safety and security improvements, and the purchase of technology equipment including hardware and software with the continued review of expenditures by a citizen’s oversight committee?”

Manatee County

Voters will be asked to extend the 1-mill property tax for public schools. The referendum was first approved in 2018 and provides funding for salary supplements for employees, STEAM education, career and technical education, and charter schools.

School board members say it would continue to fund the recruitment and retention of teachers and staff, career and technical education, STEM education, visual and performing arts and charter schools. The millage also funds 30 minutes of additional instructional time for each school day.

New this year would be money for school safety and security, early childhood education and athletics.

Our journalists are independent, curious, respectful, and accountable to you. We’re committed to keeping you at the center of this conversation on democracy, staying in touch through surveys, social media, and in-person events. We won’t be chasing politicians, but instead we’ll tell stories based on the questions you want answered.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.