Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are we voting on?
A. The School Board of Hernando County will ask voters to approve a one mill increase in the property millage rate to recruit and retain quality teachers, keep students safe and expand successful academic and career and technical programs. It will appear on the ballot during the election on Nov. 3, 2020. By statute, this tax will only last four years unless it is approved for renewal by a majority of the voters.
Q. If it passes, how much will it raise and where will the money be spent?
A. It is estimated that the 1 mill will bring in $10 million a year. Half of it will go to salaries with the bulk of that going to teachers. The other half will go toward improving mental health and safety of students and staff, enhanced learning technology, and the expansion of successful academic programs, such as career and technical education.
Q. How much will it cost taxpayers?
A. The increased millage will only affect property owners. If you don’t own any property, you don’t pay property taxes. For homeowners, the increase will depend on the value of your home. For example, if your home is worth $150,000 and you receive the standard $25,000 homestead exemption, you will pay around $10 a month. One mill means you pay $1 for each $1,000 that your home is valued annually by the property appraiser.
Q. Why do you need a millage rate increase?
A. Every county is different. In Hernando County, we have relatively low property values. Millage rates have steadily declined over the past 10 years. The millage has not increased for many years. That combination puts us behind other districts and this 1 mill request just brings the rate up to where it used to be. At the same time, there’s a national teacher shortage. We must have competitive salaries to recruit and retain quality teachers. Our teachers make less than the state average, but they’re not average teachers. We need to pay them what they’re worth or risk losing them.
Q. Isn’t the state already providing an increase in teacher salaries?
A. Yes, the Governor signed into law a bill to increase minimum teacher salaries. However, all teachers in the state will receive that money. To stay competitive and keep teachers from leaving, Hernando County will still need to supplement those raises to at least reach the state average. It’s also important to note that the increase will not raise the base salary for any non-classroom teacher. So our Social Workers, Guidance Counselors, Media Specialists and Title I Resource teachers are not eligible for the salary increase at all.
Q. Are we short of teachers in Hernando County?
A. Yes. Over the past two years, the school district has struggled to fill about 40 open instructional positions during the school year. Subjects such as math, science, reading and English for Speakers of Other Languages are difficult to fill. Special education teachers are very hard to find, with vision teachers the most difficult. Low pay is almost always among the top 3 reasons that teachers leave.
Q. The state gave you money to improve safety in schools. Why do you need more?
A. We are committed to providing a School Resource Officer in every school and the state did not provide sufficient funding to cover that cost. The district has to make up the difference so we used general fund dollars to pay for SROs. The passage of the referendum allows us to end this practice and use general fund dollars for education. We will also be able to purchase additional security devices and improve our control of access in and out of schools.
Q. Can’t you fund existing programs with existing dollars? Things seem to be going well.
A. It’s true that the district is going in the right direction. Graduate rates, industry certifications and student scholarships are all on the rise. Passage of the referendum allows us to accelerate our progress with the expansion of proven programs, such as career and technical programs to prepare students to fulfill local workforce needs. In addition, we want programs that fit the needs of all students, not one size fits all. This includes the arts, science and math magnet programs, special education and accelerated programs for advanced learners.
Q. Isn’t this a bad time to ask voters to increase taxes, given the recession and higher unemployment due to the coronavirus?
A. We have no choice. The need is urgent. It won’t cost taxpayers anything to place it on the November ballot, so it’s much better than waiting. The cost per individual is small, while the benefit to our community is huge. Quality schools plus quality teachers equals quality of life, for our students, our employers and our economic well-being.
Q. Many residents don’t have children in school. Why should they support this?
A. Public education impacts everyone. Quality education equates to quality of life issues, such as community safety, pride, and economic development. It results in higher incomes, better jobs, rising property values and visitor attractions. Today’s students are your future pharmacists, construction workers, nurses, electricians and engineers. Our parents, grandparents and senior neighbors paid for the education of each of us. Investing in the next generation is at time-honored American tradition and a community-wide responsibility.
Q. What about the lottery? Wasn’t that supposed to supplement school budgets?
A. It’s true that lottery proceeds go to education. Most of it goes to Bright Future Scholarships. Lottery dollars make up less than 1% of the district’s budget. All of the lottery dollars the school district receives, could barely keep schools open for one day. It does not come close to fulfilling the needs.
Q. How will we know if the money is being spent as promised?
A. Two ways. First - all spending is transparent. All financial reports are posted on the district’s website. For the millage funds, there will be a separate tracking report for public review. Second, the school board will appoint a Citizens Volunteer Millage Committee, consisting of qualified volunteers who will scrutinize the budget and submit an annual report to the board and community.
Q. Why should we trust the school board with additional money?
A. In all financial spending and reporting, the school district provides quarterly reports as evidence of its commitment to being fully transparent with the public. The district’s financial house is in order. It has an A+ credit rating and a solid fund balance. For 18 years the district has earned the Certificate of Excellence in financial reporting.
Q. Have other districts passed similar measures?
A. Yes. In fact, counties that have passed similar referendums, such as Sarasota and St. Johns, have seen great academic success. Orange, Clay, Miami-Dade, Charlotte, Manatee, Marion, Lake, Palm Beach and others have passed similar measures.
Q. Didn’t Hernando County voters just pass a half-cent sales tax increase for schools? Isn’t that enough?
A. It’s true, the half-cent sales tax passed in 2015. That money is helping us repair, renovate and build new schools. But it can only be used for capital improvements to our facilities. It cannot be used for teacher salaries, school resource officers, classroom supplies or expanded programs. This 1 mill referendum is for operational dollars, not school facilities, and the district must keep them separate by law.
Q. What question will voters actually see on the ballot?
HERNANDO SCHOOL DISTRICT
MILLAGE ELECTION FOR PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS
Shall the School Board of Hernando County levy an ad- valorem operating millage of 1 mill annually to 1) attract and retain high-quality teachers and staff with competitive salaries and provide additional staff to support student needs, 2) maintain and increase school safety measures and increase mental health services for students, 3) provide students and staff with devices, resources and support, 4) maintain and increase educational opportunities for all students, and 5) appoint a Citizens Volunteer Millage Committee to review annual spending.
YES, for millage
NO, against millage