Hillsborough Schools shows off leaking roof to make case for tax increase

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Hillsborough County Public Schools used a rainy Friday morning to show why district leaders want to pass a half-cent sales tax for education funding.

Administrators say most of the money brought in by the proposed tax increase would be used to overhaul the district's aging air conditioning systems and replace or repair leaky roofs.

Friday morning, the district used East Bay High School as an example of what happens to some buildings during a heavy rain.

"There is a need for the roof to be fixed," said Assistant Principal Brian Williams, as he led media members from classroom to classroom pointing out several leaks. "I would say we could replace at least two to three times a week."

"This is a challenge we face in schools all over Hillsborough County," added Grayson Kamm, a spokesperson for the district.

Kamm told FOX 13 there are 20 schools currently in need of a new roof right now, but several more will be facing the same situation in the coming years.

Critics, however, have wondered why a combination of education lottery and property tax funds couldn't cover the costs.

Kamm hoped to address those concerns Friday.

"Right now, add-on lottery funds make up zero-point-three percent of our school's district's budget. And most of that money is already allocated to specific programs. It's locked in and we can't spend it on things like new roofs," he said, explaining many of those programs include Bright Futures scholarships. "There's a big misconception that lottery funds flow into our local school districts in a big way."

Kamm said the 0.3 percent comes out to about $350,000 that could be used on roof repairs; that wouldn't be enough to cover a single new roof.

As for property taxes, the district said it has received a decreasing percentage over the last 10 years.

"In the past decade, the legislature has actually shrunk the amount of local property tax we have to deal with fixing problems like this, so the funds keep shrinking," Kamm said. "Our average campus age is 50 years so the need keeps increasing and we just can't fix, with the money we have, everything that needs to get fixed."

Some voters are skeptical about the district's ability to properly handle funds, while others are ready to rubber-stamp the tax hike.

"The money hasn't been spent where I think we, the taxpayers, would want to be spent," said Tom Dusold. "I think a lot of that, in defense of Superintendent Eakins, I think a lot of that happened under previous watches and I think he's done a great job of cleaning it up, but I can see the trepidation on the part of the voters in trusting the district with money."

"If this is the way that we have to fund our schools and make sure that our kids get what they need, I'm in favor," added Kim Klase.