I am frequently asked my position on the $1 Mill Property Tax Referendum. Will I vote for it again? Yes, but I will work to make it unnecessary.
When the referendum appeared on the ballot in a special election, I did vote for it, but I admit I was reluctant. My reluctance was not because I was opposed to its intended use, but because it was a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
The funds generated by the millage, roughly $37 million annually, are used to provide a stipend to the teachers and pay for STEM (science and technology) initiatives. When the millage expires in 2022, it will have to go to the voters again and every 4 years thereafter. And therein lies the problem. Teacher compensation should not be a SUPPLEMENT and not be reliant on the voters. The teachers have the right to a fair compensation prioritized in the operating budget.
The School District has a duty to pay teachers a fair compensation. They should not push that responsibility to the voters every four years.
I was also reluctant because of the method that was used to make this tax increase happen. When the school board discussed the millage, there was no planning or analysis of how much they needed. Initially it was going to be ½ mill, but was raised to 1 mill because that’s what Sarasota gets. Then it was decided to put it on a ballot in a special election at a cost to the district of $300,000. By having it in a special election, fewer votes were cast than in the primary and general elections. And, when it appeared that the referendum might fail, at the last board meeting before the election, a portion of the tax money was promised to the charter schools to woo additional votes.
Our elected board members are our representatives and not our rulers. The democratic process must not be manipulated. Let the voters decide.
If I am elected to the school board, I will work toward finding a permanent solution—funding teacher compensation from the core budget. And I will insist that it be included on the ballot in the primary or general election. And if the board is unable to accomplish that in 2022, I will once again reluctantly vote for it.