With thousands of students arriving late to school due to a bus driver shortage and thousands more in classrooms with no permanent teacher due to a teacher shortage, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Van Ayres recently proposed a draft plan to school board members that would allow Hillsborough to address the shortages by delivering competitive pay to retain and recruit high-quality teachers and staff. 

Voters in five counties surrounding Hillsborough have approved a millage referendum, giving those counties tens of millions of additional dollars each year to deliver competitive pay to teachers, bus drivers, counselors, security officers, principals and other district employees. After extensive research, Ayres put forth a detailed plan showing how a voter-approved millage would address these critical shortages and positively impact Hillsborough County’s more than 230,000 students. 

“What keeps me up at night is that many of our students are not able to get to school on time because of a shortage of bus drivers and many students do not have high-quality teachers in their classroom due to a number of teaching vacancies. The millage will strengthen our foundation and allow us to compete for the best teachers, support staff and administrators to ensure successful educational outcomes for students,” said Ayres, who gave an in-depth walkthrough of the proposal at a school board workshop on Tuesday.

The draft proposal covers: 

A detailed impact plan — which will be finalized with input from the school board and public — showing exactly how money generated by a millage would be spent. 

Steps for transparency and accountability, including an independent oversight committee to review every dollar spent and agreements in advance with unions representing district employees.

Confirmation that voters would need to renew a millage every four years, ensuring the public would exercise strong control over the funding. 

The proposal follows a multiyear financial overhaul with reforms that have balanced the district’s budget, stabilized its bank account — called its ‘fund balance’ — for the first time in a decade and earned it an upgraded rating from independent bond agencies. 

A millage would generate money for schools that stay in Hillsborough County. With the county’s average home value of $375,000, and appropriate homestead exemptions, the cost to an average homeowner would be $350 per year, which averages to about $1 a day.

In return, by gathering these funds, a millage would raise an estimated $177 million to support Hillsborough’s students each year. A projected $150.4 million would go to district-operated schools, and based on enrollment, $26.6 million would go to charter schools.

Note that under Florida law, the half-penny sales tax approved by Hillsborough County voters in 2018 can only be spent on buildings and maintenance, not on competitive pay for teachers or other academic programs. The half-penny sales tax continues to be invested in school facilities, with 120 air conditioners overhauled or replaced and more than 3 million square feet of aging roofs replaced so far.

Impact Plan

Objective: Competitive Pay (92 percent)

To support students by retaining and recruiting excellent teachers, support staff and administrators who serve as the foundation of our schools, more than $9 out of every $10 generated by the millage would be dedicated to competitive pay.

School district staff proposes salary supplements of: 

  • $6,000 each year for teachers.
  • $3,000 each year for support staff.
  • $6,000 each year for administrators.
  • These projected estimated supplements would increase the income of: 
  • The average teacher by 11 percent. 
  • The average support staff member by 11 percent.
  • The average administrator by 4 percent.

Combining the salary supplements with existing salaries would place the pay for first-year teachers above most neighbors, and the pay for an experienced ten-year teacher above all neighboring counties. These projected estimated supplements are separate and in addition to any annually negotiated salary increases.

Objective: Academic Programs (8 percent)

To support students through extended learning and the arts, college and career readiness and athletics and P.E., 8 percent of the dollars generated by the millage would be dedicated to academic programs.

District staff proposed these specific programs: 

  • Learning Field Trips for Every Grade.
  • New hands-on experiences that take students beyond classroom walls at no cost to students, including transportation.
  • New Vision for Nature’s Classroom.
  • Staffing to support new exhibits and experiences at the school district’s unique outdoor learning center along the Hillsborough River.
  • College and Career Counselors at Every High School.
  • With more than 60,000 high school students across our district, the need for this life-changing guidance is tremendous.
  • New Sports Options and P.E. Equipment.
  • Add new sports options for students and replace worn physical education and recess equipment for elementary students.

Next Steps

Hillsborough school board members are scheduled to vote on Tuesday, April 2, on whether to place a millage referendum on the Tuesday, November 5, general election ballot for all voters in Hillsborough County. To pass, the millage must receive 50 percent plus one of the votes.

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