A ballot initiative by the Pasco County School Board was approved, with 58.66% of the total 94,230 voters who weighed in on the issue.
After the vote, in a video, Superintendent Kurt Browning assured voters “that every penny that is raised as a result of this referendum will go to improve non-administrative salaries for teachers, bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, maintenance workers and many, many more.”
A similar ballot initiative in Hillsborough County failed, by the thinnest of margins.
In Hillsborough, 111,076 voters cast “no” ballots, while 110,486 voted “yes.” The end result was a difference of 590 votes, or 0.26% difference in the total.
Voting on the issue was so close in Hillsborough, it triggered an automatic machine recount of the ballots. In the end, though, the negative outcome remained the same.
Prior to that recount, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis addressed the issue on his blog, which is posted on the Hillsborough public school district’s website.
Davis wrote: “If the unofficial results stand, it will not change our efforts as we fight to increase education funding for students and staff. The following facts remain:
- We are facing an alarming teacher shortage due in part to salary levels.
- Florida is ranked near the bottom in education funding nationally.
- Hillsborough County is ranked 45th in state and local per-pupil funding.
- Twenty-three Florida school districts – many bordering Hillsborough County – now have an additional millage allowing them to enhance compensation packages for teachers, administrators, and support staff.”
Davis added: “Please know we will be back in 2024 to ask the board to place a millage referendum on the ballot, asking voters for additional funding to further support education. As the seventh-largest district in the nation, we must do everything possible to inform our community on how education is funded in Florida and push lawmakers to help us create the best educational system for our children.”
Meanwhile, in Pasco, on Aug. 24 — the day after the Primary Election — Pasco Schools Superintendent Browning issued a video expressing gratitude for the voters’ support.
Browning characterized approval of the ballot initiative as “a wise investment in our schools, our employees and our students.
“It’s an investment in the future of our community,” Browning continued. “It will enable us to be more competitive with surrounding school districts so we can recruit, retain, the best employees and make good on our promise to provide a world-class education. As superintendent of schools, I have to tell you that it is gratifying to see this kind of support from our community.
“Community support is essential to our success,” the superintendent said.
Don Peace, president of United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), played a key role in persuading school board members to place the measure on the ballot.
On a motion by Colleen Beaudoin and a second by Alison Crumbley, the board voted unanimously in April, to pursue up to a 1-mil tax. The additional tax will begin July 1, 2023 and end no later than June 30, 2027.
The proceeds, according to the ballot question, will be used “for essential operating expenses to maintain salaries competitive with the market, attract and retain high-quality teachers, bus drivers, and other non-administrative school support employees.
An oversight committee will be appointed to ensure that the revenues are properly spent, Browning previously announced.
Much like the Hillsborough school district, Pasco has hundreds of vacancies in the district, for a wide variety of jobs.
After Pasco voters approved the referendum, USEP president Peace shared his thoughts on the initiative’s passage in a posting on the union’s website.
Due to the referendum’s success, Peace wrote, “Pasco County will now be able to negotiate competitive salaries for our employees and keep the high-quality educators we already have working here in Pasco. It is our goal to see that the multitude of vacancies in this district are filled with competent, qualified people being paid a fair, competitive, and rewarding salary.”
Like Browning, Peace thanked the Pasco voters for their support.
He also thanked all of the people who played a role in helping to ensure the adoption of the referendum.
“Many of you joined with USEP and waved signs and had roadside conversations with drivers to push the information out. Thank you.
“Many of you spent some pretty warm hours outside polling places to greet and educate voters. Thank you!
“No matter how you helped, USEP wants to say a heartfelt thanks to you for working toward this cause,” Peace said.
He also expressed gratitude to a group of former educators and school district who formed a group called Lift Up Pasco, to help in the effort.
Peace also thanked Browning for his support.
Peace said the next step will be “collecting the funds and negotiating salary increases and doing it in a way to provide transparent information to all those voters who heard of our concern and stepped up to make something positive happen.”
The union leader characterized the vote’s passage as being “momentous” for Pasco County’s public school system.
“Long-term, both our students and our employees are going to benefit from this victory,” Peace wrote.
Published August 31, 2022