Hillsborough district leaders express disappointment after voters reject referendum to give teachers raises

Hillsborough County School district leaders expressed disappointment Wednesday following the defeat of a referendum that would have increased teachers' salaries by raising property taxes.

The measure asked voters whether they'd be in favor of a millage increase, which would have increased property taxes based on the value of a home. The revenue would have been used to pay educators more and potentially entice more teachers to Hillsborough as the district tries to address its staffing crisis; there are still about 600 teacher vacancies.

The referendum narrowly failed by 619 votes.

"Last night was a tough night for Hillsborough County Public Schools," Superintendent Addison Davis said during a morning news conference at district headquarters in Tampa. "We still continue to move forward. We go back to work. We continue to be champions for our teachers."

Although the close outcome triggered a recount, Davis doesn't expect the result to change.

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The superintendent said the defeat at the polls means class sizes will likely increase.

"One thing we don't want to do is increase class sizes, but I know no other strategy to create that stability for our students," Davis said.

"They're going to see how our schools are going to be crowded, the classrooms are going to be super crowded, and the kids are not going to get their music, art and P.E. in elementary school and that breaks my heart," Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriet said, further breaking down the impact. "I'm disheartened, I'm crestfallen, and I'm upset for the students of Hillsborough County."

Davis said district leaders will begin looking at why the measure was defeated, focusing first on the school system's troubled financial past that continues to haunt it. The Florida Department of Education threatened to take over the district's finances last year following a massive budget shortfall and dwindling reserves.

The superintendent has tried to reassure the public that those troubles are in the past, but he believes a lot of people don't trust the district to properly handle money.

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"We have to take a look at what we're doing here in the district and how we have to rebuild trust with the community to get them to understand the gravity of the situation, so that way they can help us when we go forth and try this again in another couple of years," Davis said, hinting at a plan to put this same proposal on the ballot in two years. "This community will see us again and see me again in 2024 and that just gives us sufficient time to openly engage the community, prove competence, prove financial stability."

Several other districts in Florida passed millage increases Tuesday, including Pasco County Schools. Davis said Hillsborough is one of the only districts in Tampa Bay that has not done so. Polk County Schools is in the same situation, but district leaders there plan to put it on the ballot in 2024.

Hillsborough Schools typically addresses class sizes and teacher reallocations following the first 20 days of school.