The $1 Mill Property Tax Referendum

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.

Another Waste of Money

A School Board communicates its goals, priorities, and expectations in a document called The Strategic Plan. This document is very important because it is the tool that the school board uses to direct the school administration in its activities such as setting budget, hiring decisions, instructional planning, etc. For example, if the board thinks its a priority to have a STEM lab in every school, the administration would plan for it, hire qualified teachers and allow for it in the budget. Then, the school board evaluates the progress by way of the previously-determined key performance indicators. The board holds the superintendent accountable for the progress.

Such a document was developed and adopted by the board in 2015. It can be seen at https://www.manateeschools.net/Page/8454 It’s an excellent document setting forth goals and strategies.

Was it ever used?

Look at page 42, “Key Performance Indicators.” These are the benchmarks by which the district evaluates its success. You will see the Annual Targets listed as “TBD.” That stands for “To Be Determined.” Keep reading through page 54. Most of the targets are “TBD.” This was produced in 2015 and five years later they have yet to be defined.

Now the district has hired a new Director of Strategic Planning who is working on developing a new strategic plan. I hope the district makes better use of this one.

“Foundations for Excellence,” Manatee County Public Schoold 2015-2019 Strategic Plan

The Parking Lot Measurement

In 2013 when Rick Mills was hired as the superintendent of the Manatee County School District, he introduced financial recovery action plans designed to correct a deficit in the fund balance of $7.5 million and bring the balance to $10.3 million at June 30, 2014. That was a large task and many people lost their jobs with the district.

As part of the recovery, the School Board also assembled a group of CPAs to volunteer to serve on its Audit Committee. This committee would oversee and advise the board on the annual financial audit as well as numerous internal audits. Having observed the financial meltdown as it was happening, I was one of the first to volunteer to serve on the committee.

We assembled in a conference room in the downtown School Support Center. Arriving for our frequent meetings usually held at mid-afternoon, one could easily find a convenient parking space. During that period the committee would frequently hear from financial staff how short staffed they were and how their archaic ERP system required many manual computations using Excel spreadsheets.

 After his first year, Superintendent Mills made good on his plan and the general fund balance was once again in the black. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) reported that the number of administrative personnel declined from 210 to 197. The following year, it declined further to 190.

After a contentious tenure with the district, Superintendent Mills resigned in May 2015. In the years that followed, the administrative personnel started its new growth spurt.

 Administrative Personnel
2015-2016227
2016-2017313
2017-2018316
2018-2019362
Source: “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,” The School District of Manatee County, Florida, for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019, page 168.

That’s an increase of 72% from the 210 employees in 2012-2013 to 362 in 2018-2019. And “the number of instructional personnel during that same period?”, you ask. An increase of 24% (2,861 compared to 3,545). Increases in instructional personnel outpaced student growth of 8.2%, so, without a doubt, some of the increased revenue has been directed to the classrooms.

To compare it to other similar sized districts, the Florida Department of Education’s website reports Total Administrative Staff 2019-2020. Ranked by the number of students, the list shows just how bloated this District is.


Source: Florida Department of Education, “Staff in Florida’s Public Schools, District Reports 2019-20”


There should be no reason for Manatee County School District to require more administrative staff than Brevard County which is a much larger district.

When I now drive to the less-frequent audit committee meetings, the parking lot looks like Publix on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. I don’t mind the walk, but I do mind the amount of taxpayer funds represented by all those cars. There’s a balance that needs to be restored. And that requires a school board that will watch out for these increases. I ask for your vote on August 18.

Mary Foreman

Mary Foreman for Manatee County School Board, District 3

mary-foreman.com

Karen Carpenter endorses Mary Foreman

Mary Foreman possesses the integrity, experience and competence to earn your vote as a member of the Manatee school board. There are many reasons I am actively supporting her.

First, as a CPA, Mary knew, as many did, that the financial reports were highly suspect and she was outspoken with her concerns. When the board established the volunteer citizens’ audit committee in 2013 she stepped up to volunteer and was appointed. She knows all the myriad details as well as the shortcomings and problem areas. Her discipline and dedication caused her reappointment and she is committee chair.

She has worked collaboratively to ensure that the resources are properly spent for student learning.

As the parent of two adult children with professional careers (law and IT), she understands fully the commitment, guidance and patience necessary to see that a child becomes a good adult.

I fully support Mary Foreman and know from my own interactions with her and my own school board service that she will be an excellent member of the Manatee School Board. Please join me.

Kind regards,

Karen Carpenter, Former school board member, Twice elected chair

Bradenton Herald: “Third candidate enters race for Miner’s seat on Manatee County School Board”

“Citing an annual financial report, Foreman said the district increased its administrative positions from 210 to 362 between 2013 and 2019, an increase of 72 percent.

In the same time frame, Manatee increased its instructional positions from 2,861 to 3,545, an increase of about 24 percent.

“I think it gives you an idea of where they are willing to spend money,” she said.”

https://www.bradenton.com/news/local/education/article242541431.html

Big Decisions Facing the School Board

In November 2020 there may be a new slate of board members. The seats that are up for election are currently occupied by Dave Miner (the seat that I am seeking) and Gina Messenger. The remaining three seats that are occupied by Scott Hopes, James Golden, and Charlie Kennedy will be determined in an election in 2022.

Decisions made during the next four years will impact the district for years to come:

  • Because of Covid-19, schools and distance learning will change for the foreseeable future. This will affect decisions about teaching methods, budgeting resources, and school building setup.
  • Funding is likely to be reduced because of Covid-19. This is likely to change budgets affecting every activity of the district.
  • The current board has approved a capital plan that exceeds the resources available to complete all of the projects. This will require decisions prioritizing the projects and determining whether they should be financed with debt.
  • The Superintendent’s contract requires by December 31, 2020, the board and Mrs. Saunders declare their intentions to extend the contract when it expires on June 30, 2021. This means that the board will have to launch a search for a new superintendent or begin negotiation of her new contract.
  • In a special election on March 20, 21018. the voters of Manatee County approved a 1-mill property tax for four years. This will have to go back to the voters in a referendum to continue it for another four years. The board will decide if it will once again pay for a special election and it will make decisions about how the proceeds are to be used.

I am a fiscal conservative, a CPA, and long-time member of the board’s audit committee. I have the knowledge and commitment to be a good steward of the taxpayers’ money and will advocate for the students and staff.

Sarasota Herald Tribune: “CPA files to run for Manatee School Board”

“Foreman said the main thing that sets her apart from Boyes is her background. She said the Manatee board, which already has two former teachers in Charlie Kennedy and Gina Messenger, and two attorneys in James Golden and Dave Miner, needs more diversity when it comes to backgrounds.”

https://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20200505/cpa-files-to-run-for-manatee-school-board

Mary Foreman Announces Candidacy for Manatee County School Board

MEDIA ALERT: This week Mary Foreman, Manatee County School District’s Audit Committee member and current Chairperson, announced her intention to run for election to the Manatee County School Board for District 3.

“I am a fiscal conservative and I want to make sure that money for education goes to our classrooms.  An effective School Board needs both educators and professionals from other fields who can bring a variety of expertise and perspectives to the table.  My experience as a CPA and a long-time member of the School District’s Audit Committee will allow me to contribute an understanding of finances, demand accountability, and advocate for citizens’ input.”

In coming months, the School Board is going to be faced with some difficult decisions because of Covid-19. The decisions it makes in the face of budget cuts will affect the community for years to come. Mary believes that her experience with the operations and finances of the District makes her the right choice.

Mary Foreman and her family have lived in Bradenton since 2001.  She received her bachelor’s degree in Accounting at Florida Atlantic University and worked as a CPA until her retirement in 2019.  In addition to volunteering on the District’s Audit committee since its inception in 2013, Mary has also served on the boards of several professional organizations, and was Treasurer of the Manatee High School SAC for 3 of the 4 years she was a member during 2001 through 2005.