By Dr. Stacy Hahn
Schools help define a community’s quality of life, influence development decisions and are a factor in where people choose to live. When planning for real estate development, schools are an essential component of a community’s infrastructure. People are not just interested in the quality of school districts for the educational opportunities they provide; they consider school quality as part of the overall value of the real estate. Thus, Hillsborough County School District is a factor with significant influence on the real estate market.
Hillsborough County is projected to experience a high level of growth, which requires a large level of investment that is needed for school infrastructure. Many funding streams support the school district’s growth and development, such as local property taxes, impact fees that developers pay, state Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds and a half-penny sales tax. Federal, state and local funding play an important role in the quality of our schools, so it is important that these funding mechanisms increase to keep pace with community growth. Historically, this has not always been the case, which puts a strain on our school district’s financial resources. Thus, in 2018 the community passed a ten-year referendum for the half-penny sales tax to address specific infrastructure and security needs in our school district. To date we have collected $93,639,269.98 and spent $82,149,983.08 on school projects. Over the next decade, the sales tax is expected to generate $121M-$131M annually to address essential district needs, including new school construction, air conditioning, aging roofs, classroom technology, and safety and security improvements.
As families continue to move into Hillsborough County, the planning for current and future projects, as well as managing capacity at schools, is a priority for the school district as it directly impacts school quality. For example, overcapacity of schools may impact the homeowner’s ability to enroll their children in their school attendance zone, which can cause some anxiety for all parties involved. The school district recognizes the importance of finding innovative solutions as well as the importance of being flexible in our approach to ensure all our families have access to high quality school choices throughout our community. Expanding and improving the school facilities as well as innovative school choice programs are ways in which the school district can respond to school capacity issues.
In 2020 alone, Hillsborough County School District will open four new schools that will provide students with state-of-the art facilities. The school, formerly known as Lee Elementary, will re-open as Tampa Heights Elementary, which will serve close to four hundred students in East Tampa. The newly named Sumner High School will open in South Hillsborough County just east of US Highway 30. Sumner will be the largest high school opened in the history of Hillsborough County Schools, with enrollment projections close to 3,000 students. A new middle school will also open at the same location, with room for 500 students, thus offering relief to the neighboring middle schools. Additionally, a new elementary school “D” will open in South County in the Belmont area. The population in the south county area is exploding as families move into communities such as Waterset, Belmont, Cypress Creek, South Fork, Covington Garden and Triple Creek.
In addition to building new school facilities, the school district utilizes school choice options to respond to school capacity challenges. Hillsborough County includes dozens of school choice programs for families who want to venture beyond their zoned school. Options include magnets, academies and partnership schools. The strategic placement of such programs can be used to address the school capacity challenges across the district while at the same time, expanding the high-quality education options for our students. An example of this type of program placement as a strategy is the new South Tampa Academy at Monroe Middle School opening in the fall of 2020. The South Tampa Academy is an International Baccalaureate Program (IB – candidate status) and aims to develop active learners with a global mindset. Students will pursue electives, such as computer modeling and simulation. Coursework includes high school credit options and fine arts programs. The South Tampa Academy is unique in that it is a wall-to-wall IB program, which upholds the school district’s commitment to equity in that all students who live within the Monroe school boundary will be admitted to the program. Still, students living outside the boundary will have to apply to the program. With Monroe currently under-capacity, one goal of the new program is to attract students from South Tampa middle schools, which are currently over-capacity, to attend the highly anticipated South Tampa Academy. Through efficient and effective use of our fiscal resources as well as innovative programming, we can solve some of the challenges placed on the school district by the fast-paced growth occurring in the Tampa Bay communities.
There is a direct correlation between the quality of our schools, a community’s vitality and its property values.Therefore, the school district and REALTORS® should collaborate to understand how the decisions being made affect both entities’ interests. Additionally, REALTORS® need to play an active role in improving local schools by serving on education boards, volunteering at local schools, donating their time to community-wide school improvement efforts and advocating for local school-related initiatives. Together our efforts will strengthen schools and communities.
To learn more about the Hillsborough County School District growth management plan, go to sdhc.k12.fl.us/doc/list/growth-management/about/22-102 and to learn more about the referendum projects, please visit sdhc.k12.fl.us/doc/2380.
Dr. Stacy Hahn was elected to the Hillsborough County School Board, representing District 2, in 2018. She is one of seven members responsible for making policy decisions and overseeing a total budget of $3.3 billion for the 8th largest school district in the nation, which is also the county’s largest employer with more than 24,000 employees.