Teachers are hopeful for salary increases, but mounting expenses and the ongoing trend of school choice are casting a shadow of uncertainty.
In Hillsborough County, property owners are in for a bit of relief this year with a reduced tax rate to support public schools, even as the district grapples with escalating costs and a growing number of families opting for nontraditional educational paths.
Due to the surge in property values, the tax rate will decrease from $5.56 to $5.40 per $1,000 in taxable value.
This translates to a tax bill of $540 for homeowners with a $125,000 property and a $25,000 homestead exemption. However, the upward trajectory of property values may lead to higher overall tax bills for many property owners.
The approved budget stands at $4.4 billion, a slight increase from last year’s $4.3 billion, with a significant portion allocated to instruction, totaling $1.7 billion.
The district anticipates a robust reserve balance of $336 million in the general fund, signaling substantial growth compared to previous years. As of June, the year-end reserve balance was $330 million, indicating a potential $6 million operating surplus by the following summer.
“But we know the budget is fluid, and that will change,” said Romaneir Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer.
Even with rising expenses in healthcare, utilities, and state pension contributions, the district is projected to finish the upcoming year with a healthy 19% reserve balance.
School board member Lynn Gray stressed the importance of monitoring potential losses as thousands of Hillsborough students opt for homeschooling and private school vouchers, thanks to recently passed legislation in the spring.
“Monetarily, we need to know, as a board, what we are dealing with as a result of HB 1,” Gray said, referring to the bill that expanded Florida’s voucher program.
Board member Patti Rendon, however, said it is impossible to know how much money or even how many students are lost to the vouchers because “they could already have been in private school and home school, and never have been part of the count.”
The district’s forthcoming 20-day enrollment count will provide more insight into school capacities and the growth of charter schools, which are state-funded but independently operated.
Initial counts indicate that charter schools have gained 2,000 students, while the district has seen a decline of 1,500 students. However, obtaining an accurate count remains challenging due to the influx of families from Northern states where the school year starts after Labor Day.
Simultaneously, the teacher’s union is closely monitoring the 19% reserve as it engages in negotiations for salary increases.
The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association has requested an additional $100 million annually in compensation, proposing a starting teacher salary of $50,000, which could reach $80,000 after 25 years. In response, the district has put forth a proposal starting at $47,500 with a maximum of $70,750.