There’s never a good time to ask for a tax increase, I know that, but I also know that our students and employees deserve the very best we can give them and a one millage property tax increase is the only way we can accomplish some of our goals.
Earlier this year, the School Board voted to ask the Bay County Commission to place a referendum on the ballot on April 20th asking voters to approve a one millage increase in property tax. If approved, the funds from the one mill increase would be used to:
• Increase ALL employee salaries.
• Expand our current pre-kindergarten program by offering a free, full-day of pre-k for qualifying students
• Continue to provide mental health services for students in need
• Ensure we can maintain our current level of school security and safety
Again, a new tax is always disconcerting but I thought it might be helpful if I explained a few of the complexities of school finance and why we are where we are.
First, school funding is challenging to understand even for those who work with it every day. We get almost all of our funding in “buckets” and we have zero flexibility in how those buckets are spent for the most part. For example, funds set aside for construction can only be used for construction… even if we desperately need them for salaries or school buses.
The half-cent sales tax that voters approved years ago is just for capital expenditures like construction, technology upgrades and some security-related expenses (not salaries). It cannot ever be used for salaries.
The funding we get for salaries, however, comes from a pot called “Base Student Allocation” and those funds have only gone up 3.7 percent since 2009. In contrast, our required retirement contributions have gone up 100 percent since 2012 and our health insurance costs have increased 44 percent since 2008.
In the meantime, our beginning support employee salaries have only increased about 3 percent since 2009.
You may have heard recently that teachers got a HUGE raise. It’s true, some of them got a significant raise but to understand the challenges that created you must understand the Governor’s directive.
Determined to increase the beginning teacher pay to ensure a continual pipeline of trained, professional instructors, the Governor directed that the funds he set aside be used to bring up beginning teachers to a higher starting salary. In our county that meant that all classroom teachers making LESS than $43,500 were brought up to that level.
Everyone else received a small cost-of-living type adjustment.
But the Governor ONLY provided those funds for classroom teachers… not for school counselors or media specialists or classroom paraprofessionals or bus drivers or maintenance employees or the office staff who ALL do so much for our children.
I was extremely happy for our beginning teachers because they deserve so much more than they were being paid BUT the raise they received puts them on equal footing with teachers who have 12-14 years of experience.
And, again, those funds were only for classroom teachers and not for the myriad of other employees who are just as deserving.
I could write pages about the other resources the millage could fund but I don’t have the space AND you don’t have the time. Again, however, the main purpose of this referendum is to generate additional much-needed funding for employee salaries.
Let me briefly describe the need for additional money for pre-k, though, because that is VERY important to the long-term success of our students. Currently, only about 20 percent of the students in some of our elementary schools test as “kindergarten ready” and that impacts their ability to leave kindergarten ready for first grade and so on. A full day of free pre-kindergarten could be a game changer for those children and for many of our families struggling to find quality care for pre-school aged children.
Also, currently, the state provides only about 1/4 of the money we’re spending on mental health services in our post-hurricane/pandemic world. Our children still need services and we need to provide them. Additionally, the state funds only about 2/3 of what it costs to provide professional law enforcement officers and deputies at each of our schools and so we must make up the difference ourselves.
I hope you can now understand the “why” behind the millage and that you’ll consider those needs when going to the polls on April 20th. For more information about the millage proposal, you can visit our website at www.bay.k12.fl.us/millage-facts.