TAMPA, Fla. — The lingering question of whether voters would support raising taxes to increase teacher salaries in Hillsborough County was still too close to call Wednesday.
With more than 221,000 ballots cast, the difference was only about 600 votes, assuring a mandatory recount, unofficial results show.
Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said the district is prepared to do all it can to salvage what appears to be a painfully narrow defeat.
“To make certain that every one of the ballots in this community is accounted for in the proper and efficient manner,” Davis said.
By the slimmest of margins — less than .3% — voters appear to have defeated a proposal increasing the millage on property taxes to help support raises for teachers and fund athletics and arts programs in Hillsborough Schools.
Anything less than a .5% spread triggers an automatic recount, but Davis was not confident it would be enough.
“I wanna be very clear. Regardless, if this doesn’t come out the way that we aspire to come out this community will see us again, see me again in 2024,” he said. “And that just gives us sufficient time to open the engage the community and improve confidence, prove financial stability as we have done over the last 2 1/2 years.”
Hillsborough Supervisor of Election Craig Latimer says, “I’m not seeing a difference that’s going to happen here.”
Latimer explained the next step is for the canvassing board to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday and review the remaining 183 provisional ballots and another 486 vote-by-mail ballots with signature deficiencies, which may or may not end up being cured — counted only if those signatures can be verified. If the gap narrows to .25% that would trigger a count by hand.
“But we don’t make predictions,” Latimer said. “We will count them and let the machines tell us what the numbers are.”
Although the spread is razor thin, statistically speaking, the school district faces an uphill climb.
With only 669 ballots left to count, even assuming all of them are verified, the district would still have to capture 97% of those votes in order to overcome the current spread.
By law, in the event of a hand-count, the election results would have to be finalized and ready for certification in Tallahassee no later than Aug. 30. Latimer says they’re no stranger to close races and he predicts they’ll have no issue getting this one done on time, as well.
It’s an apparent defeat that leaves the school district facing hard choices with fewer teachers and most likely more kids per classroom.
“One thing we don’t want to do is increase class sizes, but I know no other strategy to create instability for our students,” Davis said.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Davis said they are already looking past this referendum vote and toward the next chance to put it on the ballot in two years.
During that time, he says they intend to look closely at the precincts that voted against the measure and work hard, he said, to gain their trust.