School tax referendum point-counterpoint
Eileen Roy and Scott Camil
I must disagree with my good friend, Scott Camil, in his decision to oppose the one mill property tax referendum on this November's ballot. As a member of the Alachua County School Board, I readily admit that I have disagreed strongly with several Board decisions about how the taxpayers' money has been spent. However, this request of property owners to vote themselves a one mill increase in their property taxes is different for several reasons.
First, it is a matter of survival. Due to the severe and totally unwarranted cuts to K-12 education by the Florida Legislature, our schools are sinking fast. Alachua County Schools have lost $14 million this year already, with another cut in funding expected after the November election. Because we already operate on a shoestring, this has been devastating to student programs. We have cut elementary art and music classes, middle school band, media specialists, and career technical education, to name a few. School nurses will not be funded after April, 2009. The state legislature is literally starving public education.
Second, the proceeds from this referendum go to operating costs, not capital construction. The funds raised-about $13 million a year-can only be spent on the programs clearly spelled out in the ballot language. I have refused to vote for a sales tax for capital construction until the School Board imposes school impact fees, a move that the board majority has so far been unwilling to take. I see the sales tax issues as a matter of fairness in expecting those who would benefit most from new schools to pay a little more. Growth should pay for itself. However, the property tax referendum on this November's ballot would go exclusively to fund desperately needed student programs.
Third, an oversight committee has been appointed to make sure that the money generated by the property tax will be spent as the ballot language has specified. Since I know several committee members whose integrity is beyond reproach, I am confident that the committee's proceedings will be transparent.
Finally, the property tax referendum will cost the average homeowner between $10 and $15 a month, a small price to give our children more than bare bones. The tax is limited to 4 years.
Therefore, as one who watches the budget carefully, I strongly recommend that voters approve this modest measure. Our children thank you.
I agree with my good friend Eileen Roy that the schools desperately need money.
The problem is that I have no faith that Dan Boyd, the Superintendent, or the ruling majority on the board will do the right thing. This ruling majority has a history of bad decisions and bad faith.
Over two years ago I met with school board members Tina Pinkoson and Ginger Childs. I told them that if they wanted public support for a tax they had to show the public that they were doing all they could to raise funds legitimately and to reduce waste. I suggested impact fees to raise funds and an energy efficiency audit to reduce waste.
In the last 2 years Marion County schools have saved 2.3 million dollars in water and electricity costs by doing an energy efficiency audit and implementing the results.
Last month, Jessica Newman, editor of The Fine Print , and I met with Superintendent Dan Boyd. He told us, "We will not have impact fees or the audit here in Alachua County." He said that the "Marion County savings was all smoke and mirrors". You can go to these Marion County links to see for yourself that Dan Boyd was not telling us the truth:
While we were told that there was not enough money in the School Board budget for nurses, 1.2 million dollars, and that there was no money for art and music teachers, 850,000 dollars, the Superintendent had no trouble coming up with 2.5 million dollars for the Diamond Sports Park, which is outside of the urban services boundary.
The purchase of the Diamond Sports Park was done outside of School Board and County procedures. The park is being managed by the City of Newberry, which is getting the profit, not the schools.
How do we know that this Superintendent and his majority won't use the 1 Mill for what the law will require but transfer money that is already allocated somewhere else, as was done with the lottery money? There is an oversight committee of which six of its eight members are picked by the Superintendent. Do they have the power to override School Board decisions or keep funds that don't come from the 1 Mill tax from being transferred to other uses? I don't believe that they do.
So it boils down to trust.
These people that we are being asked to trust have not been trustworthy. They have not made decisions that are in the best interest of the students. They have even passed rules to try to keep Eileen Roy from expressing a different point of view.
When the Superintendent and ruling majority can show us that they can be trusted to make good decisions then I will support a school tax increase.
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