|Ocala, FL -
March 8, 2012|
Published: Ocala.com Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:40 p.m.
Expand Pre-k programs, hire reading coaches, bring in more tutors, improve school bus security, update classroom technology, and enhance extracurricular activities.
Superintendent Jim Yancey offered the School Board a long list of suggested programs and projects the proposed increase could fund.
The additional tax would amount to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, or an additional 1 mill to the current millage rate. The increase would raise an estimated $14.7 million per year, according to school administrators.
The board agreed to review the suggestions and come back on April 5 with its choices of programs the referendum would fund.
If the referendum advances, the issue would be on the November general election ballot in the form of two separate half-mill referendums: one to fund capital improvement and the other to cover operational expenses.
"We can all come back with our top three capital and maybe top five operational and we can be prepared to defend or persuade others," said Judi Zanetti, board chairwoman, during Thursday's work session.
Board member Jackie Porter asked that the board visit the issue at its next regular meeting on Tuesday.
"I've had a lot of calls from people asking me why is the board not looking at a sales tax," Porter said.
The board is not seeking a sales tax increase because the money collected could only be spent on capital improvements like new equipment and buildings. The money could not be spent on operational costs, which fund items like school resource officers and pre-kindergarten programs.
Marion County voters approved a half-cent sales tax for new school construction in 2004. That tax, which generated $110 million in five years, ended in 2009.
"It would be nice if we could use sales tax for operational costs. I think we would be all over that. It does spread the cost to additional people, but that's not an option we have," board member Ron Crawford said.
"It's deadly serious," Crawford said about the funding issues. "This is going to address all of the mandates that are not coming down with funding or inadequate funding. This is just to fill in the gaps. It's not for salary increases or fluff projects. There is no room to dance."
He hopes the voters agree with him.
"The public is going to have a choice of how they would like to see education funded," Crawford said. "If the voters decide not to approve the proposal then I hope they take the next step and go to their legislator and say, ‘The Florida constitution says you have to fund education and you are not doing the job.' "
Chris Altobello, president of the Marion Education Association, said the board has no other realistic option.
"The state has long abandoned their constitutional obligation to fund schools and have shifted that responsibility to the local districts," he said.
The school system was bracing for more deep cuts in funding to the 2012-13 school year — between $15 million and $20 million — before Gov. Rick Scott called for legislators to add as much as an additional $1 billion for schools to the state's budget.
The Legislature gave Scott $844 million, or about $7.6 million for Marion County.
Roy Abshier, Marion County Republican Party chairman, is reserving opinion on the School Board move.
"I look forward to finding out more about why they have to (raise taxes). If they are managing things well and this request for additional taxes is justified, then we'll have to listen," he said. "My preference is that they would try to economize and not raise taxes."
Joyce Blake, state committeewoman for the Marion County Democratic Party, said the proposed tax increase — if coupled with a possible half-cent sales tax request from the Marion County Hospital District to help fund Munroe Regional Medical Center — could present a problem.
A hospital tax is just one of several options being considered now.
"How do you make a choice between the school and the hospital?" Blake asked. "It's going to be a hardship on people trying to stay afloat in their homes, but it is important for the school system to have the necessary funding. It's really like being between a rock and a hard place."
Stan Hanson, a former Munroe board member and former hospital district trustee, said he didn't think the School Board proposal would have any effect on a hospital sales tax referendum — if one were placed on the ballot.
Hanson cited a 2010 poll he and a group of businesses leaders commissioned. It showed a negative lean against a property tax increase but a positive lean toward a sales tax.
Hanson said voters would view a property tax increase as unfairly charging only property owners. A hospital sales tax would be more politically palatable because it would affect everyone.
"It's a fair tax, everyone pays it," Hanson said. "And if the hospital is owned by everyone, everyone should pay."
ON THE TABLE
Here are some items on which revenue from a new school tax could be spent. The School Board is reviewing these ideas, and others, and eventually will develop a final list.
- Video upgrades on all buses
- Electronic scanning for IDs (buses, other applications)
- Intercom replacements
- Electronic locks/lights
- School bus purchases
- Conversion to natural gas
Five-year plan priorities
- Technology hardware
- End-of-course exams
- 2014-15 digital textbooks and student computers
- State-of-the-art classroom instructional technology
- Student safety: Student resource officers in secondary schools and trained security in elementary
- Expand Pre-k program as needed
- Increase instructional time
- Reading coaches for all schools
- Fill art and music positions with certified teachers
- Increase budget for national certification testing, IB, AICE
- Increase instructional budget for schools
- Engaged classrooms to use new technology and instructional materials for 2014-15
- Summer school for secondary schools
- Expand alternative discipline programs
- Staff development and curriculum development for Common Core Curriculum and technology
- Hire certified teachers when positions open during the school year
- Improve extracurricular programs
- Substitute budget — develop substitute program
- Fund additional tutoring and credit recovery time for at-risk students
- Implement college-ready program like AVID for middle 50 percent of students
Some of the bigger tax questions to hit the ballot in recent years:
- Pennies for Parks, 1988, approved. Countywide measure to borrow $20 million to acquire land for recreation and conservation.
- One-cent sales tax for county's capital needs, including jail expansion, 2002, approved.
- Half-cent sales tax for school construction, 2004, approved.
- One percent sales tax for roads, 2006, defeated.
- These are some of the things that a school tax might pay for if approved by voters in November, Marion County school officials said Thursday.