If you live in Pasco County, you may have heard about two very contentious school boundary changes that were approved this year. In both cases, middle and high schools were so overcrowded they simply could not hold any more students (with one school resorting to double schedules). The rezoning resulted in shifting close to 5,000 students to new schools, some being bused close to an hour away from a school within miles of their home.
One of the boundary changes affected my subdivision. I attended boundary committee meetings, school board meetings and community forums and witnessed families in tears, begging the district not to move their children out of the schools they loved. Neighborhoods were split up and torn apart. Emotions were high. Sadly, this is not the first rezoning I’ve witnessed.
This issue is not unique to Pasco County. It’s affecting school districts across the state.
Why are our schools so overcrowded?
Funding for new school construction comes from three sources:
- Millage (property taxes). The amount of millage that can be allocated toward school construction is determined by the state. The current amount ($1.50 per $1,000 of taxable home value) was lowered from $2.00 in 2008 and 2009 during the recession and has not been raised since the market recovered.
- PECO (Public Education Capital Overlay, derived from utility services) distributed by the state. In recent years, PECO funds have been diverted away from traditional public schools to charter schools. The percentage of PECO funding allocated to traditional public schools was lowered even more by the legislature in a 2017 bill.
- Impact fees (taxes levied on new homes built), which are determined by County Commissioners.These are one-time payments that can only be used to finance capital infrastructure. Current impact fees for a single family, detached home in Pasco County are $4,876. These fees have not been increased since 2005.
Ray Gadd, Assistant Superintendent of Pasco County Schools, explains school funding and Pasco’s situation to a local School Advisory Committee:
Read the district’s explanation of sources of Capital School Funding.
School capital funding has not caught up with population growth, resulting in many schools not having the space for all of the students located within their boundary area.
Pasco County (as well as many other districts in Florida) are in dire straight regarding capital funding for school construction. With an estimated growth of over 5,000 students in the next three years, many new schools will be needed, but the district lacks the funding to build them. In the 2017/2018 school year alone, the county is looking at an overall budget deficit of $8.7 million.
What can we do to fix this?
Let your elected officials know that our children deserve schools that have the resources needed to provide them with a high quality education.
If you are in Pasco County, contact the County Commission, and ask them to support the school district’s request to raise impact fees. If you are in another county, research your district’s situation. All Florida residents can also contact their state legislators and ask that they allocate more PECO funding to traditional public school construction, and allow schools to increase the millage rate back to pre-recession amounts.