Voters in Hillsborough County have a lot of important questions about the proposed millage that’s going to be on our August 23 Primary ballot.
And we want to get some of those questions answered because we really do want you to make an informed decision.
We sat down with Addison Davis, superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools to answer some of the most common questions from local families.
Let’s first of all talk about the timing. This is a very hard time right now for families between inflation, we’ve seen the cost of everything go up. This has got to be a pretty difficult proposal to ask taxpayers to pay even more.
Addison Davis: Absolutely. First of all, thanks for being here and having us. And it is a very challenging time, but let’s also look at it from the perspective of being able to fill quality positions for our students every single day. And this is about trying to find proactive solutions that care for teachers, which is caring for students.
We ended last year with 400 instructional vacancies, meaning that 8,000 students didn’t have a highly qualified, skilled teacher, and that is majorly concerning. Going into this school year, we have over 700 instructional vacancies and I just couldn’t wait any longer.
We, you know, openly we look at the funding that we get from the state legislation
and from a local perspective, it’s just not enough to be able to build salary schedules that recruit and attract and also retain our best and brightest every single day.
So we understand the timing may not be the best, but every day I wait is a possibility of me not being able to recruit a first-round draft pick to put in front of our children every day.
You talked about that funding coming from the state. The one thing that stopped me in my tracks and I didn’t realize this and I feel like maybe I should have been paying more attention that the state actually mandated that the school millage rate be reduced over the years.
Addison Davis: That’s correct. If you look at what’s going on, the millage rate to 2012, 2013, the mill was at 5.6%. That was 5.6 what we were levying from a local perspective.
Over the last ten years, it’s declined to where we currently are at 3.6.
Once this millage passes, because I want to be positive about it, it will be at a 4.6, which means we’ll be paying less than we did back in 2012 or 2013.
If the state would have kept it the same in 2012/2013, we would have realized $975 million that we would have been able to build compensation packages that are so attractive and we’ll be able to recruit and attract and retain our best in our brightest every single day and also offer some really cool initiatives for our children to allow them to discover endless possibilities.
There was not other funding provided, though, to make up for that loss, was there?
Addison Davis: No, there’s no additional funding at all. So, you know, we want to continue to push.
We got to continue to push our legislators to advocate for more money on the basic student allocation that would really help us and let that be, you know, given to the school districts to have that flexibility and that flexibility be able to allow us to really address our individual unique needs and perspectives from Hillsborough County.
Now, let’s talk about this proposal. What exactly are you asking of the taxpayers here in Hillsborough County?
Addison Davis: We’re asking for increase in one mil. And what that brings is, if we look at the average median home in our community, that’s around $250,000. You know what that would bring in request to that homeowner is $225 annually.
And if you look at that, what that cost per day is, that’s $0.67 per day. That’s less than a cup of coffee. And we understand that this may be a trying time, but $225 may be a lot for someone, especially with inflation.
We look at what we do deal with, gas prices, but holistically, when we talk about education, education is the foundation of a community.
And, you know, whether you have someone in the system or not, a child’s perspective from a child, if anyone has a student that’s going to allow us to put, you know, a certified teacher in front of our children to help them grow intellectually, socially, emotionally.
But even if you do not have someone in our school district any longer and you talk about, you know, you know someone may have already graduated, this is about being able to look at stability.
Being able to prepare students to be successful, being able to prepare them to go to post-secondary, to the military or to the workforce and have a real good plan that allows them to be successful. But it’s also about safety. Keeping our students in our school.
And for those who may not have individuals in our school district, we have to build a foundation of individuals that’s going to be able to take care of our elderly and build a bench for health care down the road.
So I think all that inclusive is going to allow us to better understand what we need from the mill perspective.
I think a lot of people have questions of exactly how this money is going to be spent and how you’re going to stay accountable with this money. The district, to be honest, doesn’t have the best history when it comes to accountability and the money.
Addison Davis: Sure, looking at it from a historical perspective, I can’t speak to, the only thing I can speak to is the last two and a half years we’ve been fiscally responsible. I’ve had to make some very tough decisions in this district in the last two and a half years.
Cutting a thousand positions, renegotiating contracts, selectively abandoning contracts, looking at energy efficiency mechanisms, looking at transportation efficiency mechanisms, cut in overtime. We’ve had to make some very hard decisions to be fiscally responsible.
Biggest thing is accountability for this.
You know, as the half-cent penny tax was passed, there was an oversight committee that’s currently led by Betty Castor that really put together a committee of community members that’s looking over every dollar and every cent and match it our priorities. We’re going to do the same thing.
We have a Citizens Advisory Council Committee that’s been put together the last six months. They’ve agreed to take on the role and responsibility of navigating through this funding to make sure it’s spent where at least 75% has to be going to compensate all of our employees.
We’re losing teachers, support staff, bus drivers, food and nutrition, school-based leaders. And the remaining 25% is to be used to expand visual performing arts and physical education.
We have 15,000 youngsters that do not have accessibility to art, music and P.E. And then also workforce development.
We have to be able to be on the forefront of career technical education opportunities, which is historically known as vocational opportunities, to allow our students to identify pathways that allow them to transition to a livable wage in the workforce.
And for teachers, how much of a raise is this going to work out to? I know that we’ve seen that number $4,000 thrown around for some teachers, not every single teacher, but how is that going to really break down to help?
Addison Davis: So all this has to be negotiated through the board and through our local unions and associations.
And we took the average, which is going to be an increase of our employees around 6.5%. That’s $4,000 for instructional staff, that’s $2,000 for non-instructional staff. But it could be greater.
There’s, you know, looking at scales and determining the money could be between $2,000, $10,000 or $15,000. Just depends on how the board and the bargaining units get together to be able to properly compensate. What we have to do is touch every employee in this organization to show a sense of care.
And we do know that early educators and brand new teachers got an increase in pay in the last two years, and that’s one-third of our workforce and we’re thankful for Tallahassee putting more money into our new teachers and making it more attractive.
But two-thirds of our workforce have not been touched in a positive manner from a compensational perspective. And those are individuals who are in the middle or the end of their career.
And we’re going to have to put something so attractive to be able to keep them in our schools just to really to have consistency and stability and those that really understand and not only have the pedagogy but also the content knowledge to be able to activate learning every day.
One comment that I’ve seen a lot too is ‘Well, can’t you just get the money and figure it out or balance the budget better and give teachers pay raises?’ Money doesn’t just appear.
Addison Davis: You know, I wish it did appear.
You know, I think the biggest thing is is for this community to understand what we’ve done the last two and a half years is made some very tough decisions.
I mean, we moved in, I believe it is October/November 2020, I moved 400 teachers from one location to the next location in an effort to be more fiscally responsible so we didn’t have to hire new positions based on student allocation. That was so unpopular. And then also cutting the over 1,000 positions, you know, something that I would never do as an educator.
So we all in this community need to understand that we have done, put every strategy we can in place to be able to meet the 3% threshold outlined by the state of Florida.
And but, however, when looking at this, we’re at a part where if we do not address, you know, and become competitive with the surrounding counties, we’re going to suffer.
Twenty-one counties in the state of Florida out of 67 have went out for an increased millage to address compensation. The surrounding counties Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas, all have an increased mill in additional salary schedules and we do not. Pasco is going out now, Polk’s going out next year.
If we do not ask and create this as a community, this does not get passed, then the achievement gap will be exacerbated more and we will see that our seasoned teachers will continue to leave in droves.
We’ve got to do something to show the value within this organization to be able to compete locally.
And this is about having a lens of equity not only internally within our schools, but equity across our students being able compete with other students across the state.
If it doesn’t pass, is there a Plan B? What do you do if it doesn’t pass?
Addison Davis: You know, we’re going to stay positive and then say that, you know, we’re going to do everything we can to champion this to the finish line.
But openly, if it doesn’t pass, we can just go ahead and realize that the ‘Great Resignation’ is in front of us and we’ll have more open classrooms.
We’ll have more, we’ll have larger class sizes as we move students from one class to the next, we’ll have more teachers that will be burned out because they’re covering classes. And that’s just unfair. It’s unfair to students. It’s unfair to our workforce.
You know, for us we’ll continue to look at every proactive solution within our budget to make certain that we can find some some wiggle room, to show a little bit of appreciation.
But this millage gives us sustainability for four years and gives us an opportunity to show analytics and data points that this has helped us bring and attract more stronger workforce for our students and then also seeing greater student outcomes.
Now with the, you have the committee, but will the members of the community be able to see what’s going on and track what’s going on as well to make sure that these dollars, is it going to be pretty open and transparent?
Addison Davis: Absolutely.
We will have a website that we put up the same way we leveraged it with ESSER, same thing we did with COVID. We had a COVID dashboard. We’re the first in the state to do it.
We were the first in the state to look at ESSER funds and show the community how we were spending the federal dollars.
We will do the same thing with this type of funding just to have transparency so the community can really feel, you know, that everything that we’ve asked them from a financial perspective, that there were promises made, promises kept in this initiative.
So what would you say to that parent out there who does have a child in the school system but maybe their struggling financially? How do you encourage them to vote for this?
Addison Davis: You know what, we understand there’s some complexities. Right now, we are starving to be able to put talent in front of our children.
You know what, every parent wants their child to have a better education, a better experience, a better life than we had. I want that for my daughters every single day. So does my wife.
But at the end of the day, that can’t happen if we don’t have certified teachers in front of them, helping them activate knowledge, helping them socially, emotionally, intellectually, every single day.
So I’m asking them to make that sacrifice of $225 annually or $300 annually, whether we don’t go out to the McDonald’s a couple of times, whether we substitute the ice cream all to be able to give our children and their children a fighting chance every single day in our classrooms.
A good question, an important question here, is for people who don’t have a student in the Hillsborough County Public Schools system. Maybe they pay for private schools, so why should they vote for this and increase their tax bill?
Addison Davis: I think the biggest thing is to, you know, we talk about bringing newcomers to the Tampa region, Hillsborough County, we’re about bringing new families, we’re talking about bringing new organizations, new companies, all that comes with a thriving educational system, the foundation. Whether individuals go to private school, public schools, it doesn’t matter.
Education is the foundation of a thriving community.
So just understanding all the benefits that we create, it’s also a safer mentality, being able to keep our students into our schools and off the street and out of our communities during the day.
It just gives them a sense of hope and being able to leverage, you know, all of the offerings that we have for them to have career pathways and also being able to look at the positive economic impact of having individuals that are fluent in literacy, that are mathematical, you know, competent, but being able to problem solve, decision make, all that comes from having a great stability educational system all the way.
And we just want to bring this up too, because we did approve a couple of years ago the referendum to help improve our schools.
That money’s totally separate?
Addison Davis: Correct.
That’s totally different… so maybe people are like would that money go to something why, why can’t you use that to pay teachers?
It’s a great question.
You know, first and foremost thank you to this community for passing the referendum in 2018/2019. That was solely designed to address the billion dollars of deferred maintenance.
We don’t get categorical money to be able to do that at scale.
What that does, that money allows us to expand student stations by building new schools, adding new wings, and allows us to address any safety issues and measures from a facility perspective. It allows us to address technology within our schools.
That money has to be used for those particular areas because that’s the way that the information was drafted in the ballot. The ballot language.
The same thing with the mill, the millage increase is only going to allow us to address operating expenses and what we define the needs are. And the needs are to increase compensation for employees, expand visual performing arts and physical education and also expand workforce development.
So they’re very different, both very needed because from the operation side, I got to build 18 schools in the next 15 years.
And we see we talk about inflation, you know, we see that, you know, the cost of construction has gone up 90% over the last year.
And on the other side of it, you know, we need additional money from our local legislators to be able to address the unique perspective in our school district. So very different. Both definitely need it.
But it’s going to stick with what’s in the ballot language that that is, you’re not going to change your mind two years from now and decide you’re going to spend the money somewhere else?
Addison Davis: We legally cannot. We’re statutorily required and bounded to be able to follow the language that’s presented to the community.
We will never do that.
And this is why the Citizens Financial Advisory Council will be in place. And also I’ll have my own internal organization controls, the school board, to make certain that these dollars and cents are spent in the way that we presented it to the community.
And if people have more questions, how can they reach out to you or to your staff to get everything answered?
Addison Davis: Our website at HillsboroughSchools.Org has a link to go on. They can navigate through that link which has FAQs, it has information, it also has a number of data sets to show where we were historically, what the finances will go through. All that they can educate themselves and inform them.
As a school district, we can’t tell our our viewers or we can’t tell our community members how to vote, whether yes or no, we can only arm them information.
And we’ll continue to do that and make sure they’re informed to make make a sound decision.
And will you try again if fails this time around?
Addison Davis: Absolutely, we will never give up. The groundwork will be established.
And, you know, every day, as I said, every day we wait is a potential day that a student does not is not able to thrive because they don’t have consistencies in their classrooms.
You can also WATCH this interview here:
The following story was written by Laura Cross with Hillsborough County Public Schools:
My daughter is 10 years old and is a fourth-grade student in Hillsborough County Public Schools. She likes school, but her real passion is art. She has art every Tuesday morning, and on that day, her entire demeanor changes. She is ready for school early, bright-eyed and excited for the day ahead!
This is probably the case for a lot of kiddos. Art, music, physical education and, as they get older, the unique Workforce Development classes they take are what they look forward to most at school.
Wouldn’t it be nice to expand these classes and create new programs and opportunities in these fields?
That is one reason Superintendent Addison Davis recommended to the School Board that a millage referendum be placed on the August 23 ballot. This one mil ad valorem tax will be on the primary election ballot to:
- Expand art, music and physical education
- Expand workforce development education programs
- Increase salaries to recruit and retain teachers and staff.
State education funding has not kept up with inflation, so these additional dollars are necessary to support our students and staff. Hillsborough County ranks 45th among 67 Florida districts in state and local per-pupil funding and last among Florida’s large school districts.
How money from the millage will be spent
Eighty percent of the money from the millage would go directly to increase teachers and support staff salaries. This is important for a couple of reasons.
There is a teacher and support staff shortage here locally and across the country. This trend is alarming as our district continues to see an increase in resignations and retirements, creating vacancies at every level in our schools.
In addition, our teachers and school support staff very simply deserve to make more money. They are on the front lines of education, and they pour their heart and soul into teaching and supporting our children and youth. It takes a special person to work in a school. Most of us couldn’t do it – just think back to those months of eLearning!
Finally, we must be able to retain and recruit the very best teaching talent in our state. Right now, every surrounding school district has either already secured additional revenue sources through locally passed referendums or will be going out for a referendum in the next year. Those school districts will all have a competitive advantage over Hillsborough County.
We are losing teachers and school personnel to these counties because they can pay more. In order for our schools and our students to remain competitive and receive a world-class education, we must ensure these valuable teachers stay in Hillsborough County.
We encourage you to learn more about the millage that will be on the August 23 ballot that every registered voter can vote on. We have created a webpage, www.hillsboroughschools.org/strongschools, so you can educate yourself about how the millage would help our schools and what it would mean for our teachers and staff.
Investing in quality schools improves academic outcomes for our children and builds the local economy by creating a vibrant community that is more attractive to existing and new businesses.
This millage is our way of evening the playing field to build Strong Schools and a Stronger Hillsborough.
*Photos provided by Hillsborough County Public Schools | Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.