TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In a close vote, just over 50% of Hillsborough County voters chose not to allow a millage rate increase to fund public school initiatives, WFLA reporter Niko Clemmons confirmed with Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis. The superintendent called it “a setback.”

“This is desperately a need in our school district,” Davis said Tuesday. “This is a real issue we have to face. Every surrounding county has attractive compensation packages that they’ve leaned on the community to step up and pay teachers, bus drivers, food and nutrition more.”

The Hillsborough County School District asked residents to support a property tax increase for funding over the next four years. The increase, if passed by county residents, will be a millage increase that adds an extra $1 for every $1,000 on an assessed property value.

There is still a possibility of a vote recount, due to how close the tally was as tabulation continued. According to Hillsborough County’s election officials, a machine recount is automatically triggered if there is a vote difference of 0.5% or less. However, officials said “nothing is final yet,” due to votes still being counted.

“These are unofficial results and there are still more ballots to count. We are counting approx. 3500 Vote By Mail ballots now,” officials said. “And the unofficial results won’t be certified until Thursday night or Friday morning (which will include any provisional ballots that are accepted and any Vote By Mail ballots that had valid signature cures.”

When asked what the district can do in the immediate future to address staffing and funding concerns, the superintendent says they’re in the process of negotiations and building compensations packages that will “band-aid” the district.

“We have to make continued hard decisions, what can we do to address the near 600 instructional vacancies we have,” Davis said.

According to HCPS, if the referendum is approved, the funds would add $146 million each year for a total of $584 million through July 2027. Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said the extra funds would mainly go toward providing better salaries for employees.

“We do believe that compensation will allow us … the biggest thing is to retain those that have been in education for a while because they are leaving to go take on other attractive jobs that pay in a more attractive mindset,” Davis said Monday.

Further information from the school district said the voters will be given an “opportunity to strengthen our schools and community by deciding on a one mil referendum in the primary election ballot” Tuesday.

If passed, HCPS said the funds will “increase salaries to retain and recruit teachers and staff, expand art, music, and physical education, and expand workforce development and education programs.”

Hillsborough County Schools is the seventh largest district in the country. The school system said “inadequate funding from the state and federal government” makes the millage rate increase a necessity to support their more than 220,000 students and nearly 24,000 employees.

HCPS said on their system website that instructional vacancies, or teachers in classrooms, had a 220% increase over the past six years, with a 44% increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the district cites ongoing inflation, which “has significantly outpaced the increases in education funding over the last 15 years” as reason for the additional funds’ necessity.