Tampa mayor cites other public needs and school board "drama" when asked about Hillsborough schools tax
On Wednesday the Tampa Bay Times asked Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who famously called four school board members "mean girls" after they fired Superintendent MaryEllen Elia in 2015. Just how supportive can we expect him to be in what could be an uphill battle?
Buckhorn did not deny the schools need money. But he expressed reservations about a tax referendum, based on strategy - the necessity of considering other public needs like roads and safety -- and on his less-than-stellar opinion of this particular school board.
He used the word "drama."
"I think clearly the need it is there, like it is in a lot of other issues in the city and the county," Buckhorn said.
"The Community Investment Tax back in 1995 was designed to do exactly that. It helped provide additional funding for schools and parks and recreation, police and fire. That expires in 2026. Maybe there's a way to do that early, to extend that CIT tax. And I think that would be appropriate. I think the Florida legislature has abdicated on a lot of its responsibilities for the funding of school systems.
"Do I think the public has confidence in the current [school] board? That remains to be seen. I think they do more drama than is necessary and really I think there needs to be a restoration of that faith in that particular board before they move forward.
"Ultimately it's about the kids. And we as parents have an obligation to make sure that those schools are adequate, that they're air conditioned, that we're building enough capacity for all the growth that's coming. I'm less concerned about how we got into this position and more concerned about what they're going to do about it. So I think you would find most of us to be pretty supportive.
"But I also think you have to be looking at all of the transportation needs. So if you're going to do a referendum for infrastructure and schools, we need to look at transportation. We need to look at education, we need to look at public safety as well. I don't think you can do one now and then go back in 2026 and want a renewal [of the CIT.]"
So would Buckhorn join hands with the district leaders if they went forward with a school tax campaign?
"I think it would depend on how they frame it, whether they're looking at all the other needs as well," he said. "Is it going to cannibalize the CIT renewal? I would not necessarily be supportive of that because I think that that would do a disservice to all the other things. We need that CIT renewed."
Would Buckhorn feel more comfortable if a different group of people were in charge of the school district?
"I would feel more optimistic that it would pass," he said. "I would feel more comfortable in the execution of the dollars. And I certainly would be assured that there would be a whole lot less drama."
We reached out to Cindy Stuart, the board chairwoman, for her reaction.
Stuart said she was in the throes of hurricane preparation.
But, she said, once the storm passes she will be happy to respond.