PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — LIVE: Full Election Results
Pasco County voters approved a school board referendum Tuesday. The final vote total was 54,523 votes to pass the referendum and 38,523 votes to reject it, a 16,000 vote difference.
The decision gives the Pasco County School Board a financial boost through an increase in property taxes.
Residents were asked to pay a one-mill tax, equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. Homeowners with houses valued at around $150,000 will now pay $125 annually. The tax itself will last four years.
Principal Dr. Toni Zetzche says she is relieved. She takes pride in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest teachers at River Ridge High School but she says it’s a mission more complicated now than ever.
“All over the county we are losing some of our best and brightest teachers. I have a school where I don’t have a high turnover rate and this year was one of the first years that I struggled to hire qualified teachers because they can go do other things and be paid more,” Zetzche explained.
Starting in November 2023, homeowners will start paying for the new tax.
The referendum is good for four years and district leaders said all the money will go towards increasing salaries for non-administrative employees…that’s teachers, bus drivers, nutrition services, custodians and other support staff.
“It is a game changer for this district,” Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning elaborated.
So, when will school staff see these raises? Superintendent Browning said raises will start July 1, 2023. That’s when it will have worked its way through the tax process.
“We know that the voters had a tough decision to make," said Browning. "It’s costing more to put gas in their car; it’s costing more to fill up their grocery cart; it’s costing more to do everything. And I think the voter – with the vote totals we saw, that’s a huge resounding endorsement I think of Pasco County Schools and our community’s belief in their teachers.”
Teacher pay in Florida is among the lowest in the nation. Pasco, in particular, trails multiple counties in terms of financial incentives, ranking below Hillsborough and Pinellas, among others. Better wages might even help the bus driver shortage that has plagued Pasco this school season.
"We are losing a lot of people. We are having trouble recruiting people," school district spokesperson Steve Hegarty told ABC Action News in July. "And that solution is the same solution that other districts have come up with over the last several years."