Hillsborough County Public Schools interim superintendent did not mince words. In fact, he repeated them several times because he wanted to “level the playing field.”
“We need a level playing field to compete with surrounding school districts,” Van Ayres, the superintendent, said.
To do so, he stated that the district must hire more exceptional teachers to ensure that pupils receive the finest education possible. To that aim, the interim superintendent is advocating for a property tax hike.
“We try to — a lot of times — complicate things,” Ayres told reporters. “This is not that complicated.”
Following a lengthy debate Tuesday night, school board members unanimously voted to give Ayres more time to establish a clear plan before determining whether to place the tax raise on the November 2024 ballot.
If the board finally approves the referendum, voters in the 2024 general election will be asked if they agree with a 1.0 mill property tax hike. According to the district, the hike would produce around $166 million, which could be utilized to improve teacher salaries and reinforce the district’s recruiting and retention efforts.
Jen Flebotte, a candidate for a district-wide school board seat, agreed that district teachers need more pay, but she believes a tax hike is not the best solution.
“There’s gotta be a better way,” she stated on Tuesday.
She believes the district can fund the wage raises in other ways, especially in an inflationary environment when many low-income households will feel any tax rise.
“That hurts me as a single mother of three boys.” “Are you sure?” she asked. “And my children live in Hillsborough County.” My power bill has tripled since five months ago.”
That is not universally held. According to Joseph W.J. Robinson, the district’s schools are like a dying patient on the surgery table.
“Do you want a doctor to fix you, or do you think I can’t afford one?” No, you want someone to look after your health and keep you alive,” he explained. “So, this is the same thing.”
If given the opportunity, he would vote in favor of the tax hike in November 2024. He hopes that others will follow suit.
The district estimates that the potential tax hike would cost the average Hillsborough County property owner roughly $20 extra each month.
Ayres intends to make a more thorough case for the tax increase early next year. Following that, board members will vote on whether it should be placed on the ballot.