Manatee County voters will decide in an upcoming election whether or not to renew a one-thousandth property tax that benefits the Manatee County school district.
If approved, the tax is expected to generate $ 45.6 million this year, much of which will go towards additional staff salaries and maintaining an additional 30 minutes of school each day for students.
School officials estimate teachers will receive an additional $ 5,409 this year, plus extra pay for working a slightly longer school day.
The money comes from a one-thousandth tax on all properties in the county. A mill equals $ 1 for every $ 1,000 of a property’s assessed value, so the owner of a home with an assessed value of $ 175,000 would pay $ 175 a year because of the mill.
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Voters narrowly approved the increase when it was first proposed in 2018 with a 51-49% vote. School officials say the additional funds have made it much easier to recruit and retain teachers, while opponents say it increases the tax burden on homeowners.
âIn 2017-18, teachers were accepting jobs in the district and then getting an offer from Sarasota or Pinellas and quitting before they even started because they would get a higher offer,â said Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association. . âIt’s not happening now. When we make an offer for a teacher, they come to work for us.
The Manatee County Republican Executive Committee passed a resolution opposing the renewal of the mileage, and Sheriff Rick Wells has said he will vote against the referendum.
One of the objections of opponents is the ever increasing nature of mileage. Each year, the one-thousandth tax generates more money as property values ââincrease. Over the next few years, the total annual transport for the district will be close to double the initial request of $ 33 million in 2018.
Garin Hoover, the former chairman of the Citizen’s Financial Oversight Committee, which monitors spending, said the district could not prove that higher salaries for teachers and a longer school day directly lead to better results.
âAs a committee, we couldn’t conclude that there was any benefit to the tax,â Hoover said. “And that’s the main thing.”
Hoover, along with others who oppose the tax, says the district should identify how much money it needs and then, if necessary, apply for a specific mileage, rather than just asking for coverage. A mill.
âIt’s more about management than money,â Hoover said. âThe school district is terribly mismanaged. “
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Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said if the referendum was not renewed the district would be back to where it was before 2018, losing teachers to Sarasota and Pinellas and facing low test scores.
âThese resources don’t exist,â Saunders said. âWe will not be able to have competitive salaries with our neighboring districts which have implemented mileage. In short, we would fail our students.
Saunders said the mileage advantage is evident when looking at academic progress and staff salaries.
“Taking 30 minutes of teaching children is not going to promote academic success,” she said. âIf we know that reading in grade three is an area for improvement, cutting down on teaching time won’t get us there. “
The new PAC supports the referendum
The tax is supported by the teachers’ union, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. and the largest builders in the county. A coalition of community leaders formed a PAC called Forward Manatee to promote the referendum.
Pat Neal and Carlos Beruff, two of the county’s most prolific developers and major Republican donors, have spoken out in favor of the issue, both contributing $ 50,000 to Forward Manatee.
Neal said it’s much easier to sell homes in neighborhoods with highly rated schools, and he would like every school in the county to be “as new and nice and fresh with an educational team as at Lakewood Ranch.”
He said concerns about the high taxes did not scare any of his home buyers.
âWe hardly ever hear about property taxes because they are way lower than the state they came from,â Neal said.
Beruff said he didn’t want the referendum to pass, but he agreed to back it in exchange for the district’s promise not to vote in a special election after that cycle.
âIf the people of Manatee County want to come out on top, I won’t stand in their way,â Beruff said. “But don’t do it in this special election where no one votes.”
The renewal of the mileage is proposed in a special election, but by making the renewal a proposal over three years rather than four years, the school board is preparing to postpone future renewals to the ballot in the general election of 2024.
Special elections can be contentious because the district has to pay to hold the election, and the turnout is much lower than in a general election.
Advocates of the special elections say it helps educate voters on the issue since they won’t be voting for several other candidates at the same time.
Opponents point to the cost, and they say the special elections give a strategic advantage to those who want the issue to pass because the district can easily mobilize thousands of voters who will directly benefit.
The election is expected to cost between $ 350,000 and $ 400,000, said Scott Farrington, deputy election supervisor for Manatee County.
How to vote
The official election will take place on November 2, but postal voting has already started.
People who wish to vote by mail must receive their application at least 10 days before the election, Farrington said. In order to count, voters must return their ballots to the Election Supervisor’s office by 7 p.m. on November 2.
People can also vote early at the Election Supervisor’s office (600 301 Blvd. W, Bradenton) between 8:30 am and 6 pm October 23-30.
Ryan McKinnon covers schools for the Herald-Tribune. Connect with him at [email protected] or on Twitter: @JRMcKinnon. Support the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by subscribing today.