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Monday, Mar 02, 2015

Hernando schools propose plan for half-cent sales tax


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BROOKSVILLE - The school board outlined ballot language for a measure Tuesday that would continue a half-cent sales tax, as well as 10 years of capital improvement projects that could use the funds if the referendum is approved by voters in November.

The half-cent sales tax was first approved by voters in 1999, primarily for the construction of Nature Coast High School, district officials said.

The tax was reapproved by Hernando County voters in 2005, and generated $115,730,321.60 for the district. It expires in November.

Explorer K-8 and Weeki Wachee High received the most of the funding at $41.7 million and $50.9 million respectively. Most of the rest went to Winding Waters K-8 ($17 million) and Springstead High ($13.3 million), according to the district.

The sales tax funded about $138.9 million in projects with $29.4 million in debt service paid, according to the district.

The district estimates a renewed half cent sales tax would provide $35.25 million in funding for five years, and $70.5 million in funding for 10 years.

The proposed referendum language states the tax, if approved in November, will be applied to fixed capital expenditures or costs associated with improving school facilities or campuses which have a "useful life expectancy of five or more years."

That includes construction, reconstruction, remodeling, major component upgrades like computer and internet hardware and software, increased bandwidth, life safety upgrades, and facility improvement, according to the draft.

"One of our critical needs is technology," said Facilities Director Roland Bavota. "This replaces the Dell and puts a tablet in every student's hand."

The district estimates $17.181 million in technology and computer lease upgrades in the first three years of implementation, or $33.71 million in recurring costs over 10 years.

District officials said they will partner with a tablet manufacturer and local internet service providers to assist low-income students who do not have internet access at home. Officials are also hopeful a small school district consortium that Hernando recently joined will help the district secure state funding to improve internet access.

"Over 80 percent of our families have a Smartphone," said School Superintendent Lori Romano. "We can start to ask the question about Internet service."

Romano said the tablet the district is looking at was designed by educators and meets new statutory requirements for computer-based testing, and includes an insurance policy in the price tag to compensate for loss or damaged devices.

"That's huge for us," she said. "If we don't provide students that skill set to go out into the workforce or into secondary education where they will use them, then we've hindered them."

The proposal also states the funding can be used to acquire, improve, and design lands for current or future facilities.

In addition, the surtax funds can be applied to servicing bond indebtedness to finance any of the above projects, and any interest accrued with those funds can be held in a trust to finance the projects, according to the draft.

However, the proposed resolution prohibits the tax proceeds, or any interest accrued by them, to be used for operational expenses.

Between a tentative reinstatement of impact fees, the sales tax, as well as property taxes, the district estimates these three revenue sources will generate more than $111 million for the district in five years, and more than $222 million in 10 years.

The district also estimates it will have nearly $74 million in district maintenance costs, according to its five-year capital plan.

The district estimates it will need more than $158 million in 10 years, according to its capital capacity plan, which will include a new K-8 school in eastern Hernando County.

Also incorporated into that 10-year figure are additions to Westside Elementary, Brooksville Elementary, Eastside Elementary, J.D. Floyd K-8, Pine Grove Elementary, Spring Hill Elementary, Deltona Elementary, and Springstead High, according to the district.

Officials recommended narrowing the proposed resolution to improve chances of voter approval and allowing advocates of the tax to articulate the district's need for the technology.

The school board also agreed to form a committee comprised of citizens and representatives from Pasco Hernando State College and the school district.

The committee will work to focus the half-cent sales tax resolution's language, and the district hopes to have that committee assembled within a month, district officials said.

The district has until August to present the resolution to Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson's office.

(352) 544-5271

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