Half-cent tax brings in money for schools from collections, interest

Half-cent tax brings in money for schools from collections, interest

BROOKSVILLE – Rising interest rates might be hitting people hard, but they’re also helping the schools, the School Board heard on Jan. 10.

Gregg Laskoski and Lori Sowers of the accountability committee for the half-cent sales tax said money is continuing to flow into the coffers for capital projects, but Laskoski cautioned against complacency.

“We hear from time to time that we have all this money, as if it’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” he said. “That money disappears awfully quickly.”

The HVAC systems in the schools cost a lot of money to repair or replace, he said, noting that Central High School’s system, which is in planning, will cost $7 million to $8 million. Not only that, three more high schools need HVAC work, too.

The cash on hand from the tax is not some remarkable surplus but eventually will be spent.

Through Sept. 30, 2022, Sowers said, they’ve collected $3.2 million in sales taxes, plus interest income of $91,000.

From inception, they’ve taken in $82.8 million and have purchase orders worth $68.5 million, with $62.3 million paid out.

In 2022, Sowers said, they averaged $1.5 million in revenue.

They’re accounting for the money, Laskoski said, and all the data can be reviewed on the website at https://www.hernandoschools.org/departments/facilities-construction/half-cent-sales-tax-information.

“We still need members on this panel,” Laskoski said.

School Board member Shannon Rodriguez asked how they were advertising their need for more people, and School Superintendent John Stratton said they were sending out the word. 

“We want you to know how we are spending this money,” Stratton said.

More teachers needed

During the citizen input portion of the meeting, union leader Lisa Masserio said the district still has 100 teaching vacancies and expressed concern over the hiring of foreign teachers, saying it’s a temporary solution to a long-term problem, brought about in part by political attacks on teachers, which causes them to walk away.

Rodriguez asked for several pulls from the consent agenda.

She asked why the field trip for Hernando High and Weeki Wachee High students went from $400 to $7,000 for the Florida Future Educators of America State Conference. She was satisfied with the answer that more students are going, and thus more chaperones and more transportation is needed.

She also pulled the memorandum of understanding with Saint Leo University for the placement of social work students. The item was to authorize the additional purchase of services with TPG Cultural Exchange for an estimated amount not to exceed $200,000 for the recruitment of teachers through the J-1 Visa Sponsorship.

Ray Pinder, director of human resources, said they’ve spent $375,000 by board approval and have added 46 teachers. It’s an immediate need, he said.

They’ve been working with universities to find interns, Pinder said, and sometimes can get former students from the local system to come teach and stay.

Stratton said there still are 100 openings, and he encouraged people seeking a teaching job to apply.

A reading program costing $30,000 that Rodriguez said wasn’t effective and that Mark Johnson described as “throwing good money after bad” passed on a 3-2 vote, with Rodriguez and Johnson dissenting.

In other action

• Students from Powell Middle School led the pledge of allegiance.

• Gina Doherty, student representative, gave an update on activities at the schools. Pinebrook Elementary celebrated Literacy Week, she said, and Chocachatti had a partnership with AVID Health to teach students about the basics of the medical field.

• The Hernando Education Foundation reported grants and donations totaling $78,683.27.

• The board approved items for HVAC services for $1 million and vehicle services for $500,000.

• The board also approved almost $580,000 for engineering services for replacement of the HVAC system at Brooksville Elementary School.