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School Board Reminds County and Cities of Its Own 1/2 Penny Sales Tax Renewal Ahead

| March 1, 2011

The New Girls: Sue Dickinson, chairman of the Flagler County School Board (left), Superintendent Janet Valentine and board member Colleen Conklin, preparing for MTuesday's board meeting, held this time at Flagler Palm Coast High School's Bistrot. (FlaglerLive)

As the Flagler County Commission tries to convince cities and residents to go for a new sales tax for economic development, the Flagler County School Board Tuesday morning got a reminder: its own half-penny sales tax, in place since 2002, expires next year. The $29 million the tax generated helped the district build a new school (Belle Terre Elementary) and become a leader in technology-based education. The money since 2008 also countered a drop in revenue from the state.

There’s no question that the school board wants voters to renew the tax for another 10 years. The referendum will appear on the November 2012 ballot. That’s still 21 months away. But the timing of the school board’s reminder is not coincidental.

School Superintendent Janet Valentine said she wants the board to be aware of its priorities ahead of this weekend’s economic-development summit. That two-day summit will yet again gather representatives from every local government agency, including the school board, to devise a development strategy all agencies can agree on. So far, that agreement has been elusive because it hinges in large part on a new half-penny sales tax. That referendum would likely appear on the November 2011 ballot, leapfrogging the school board’s referendum, and possibly hurting its chances a year down the line, if voters feel that they’re being bombarded with tax increases.

The school board convinced voters last November to approve the continuation of another existing tax—a 25-cent-per-$1,000 levy on property values that generates about $2 million, and that helps pay for teachers and other critical needs. That tax expires in 2012, too.

The difference between the school’s existing sales tax and the county’s projected tax is proof. The district is able to show what it’s done with the money. The county isn’t: it would be asking voters to take a leap of faith. School board members on Tuesday stressed that as they prepare to re-sell their half-cent sales tax to voters, that proof should be a centerpiece of the campaign. “We did what we said we were going to do,” Andy Dance, one of the school board members, said. “We were good stewards of the funds we were going to receive.”

The other centerpiece of the campaign will be education—not the sort of education that takes place within schoolhouse walls, but education about money pots. The half-penny sales tax revenue is spent exclusively on capital needs. That means school buses, furniture, copiers, building additions, computers or anything else associated with technology. But not teacher or service employees’ salaries. That comes out of the general fund budget.
Since 2002, the district has been able to lower the student-to-computer ratio to 3-to-1. That’s eliminated the bottleneck that formed at computer labs previously. In the next 10 years the district wants to lower that ratio to 1-to-1 in the future (not to ensure that every student has a computer, necessarily, but that every student has access to computer technology, from laptops to ipads to Kindles and the like).

The district also wants to move toward digital textbooks, which would save money, and close the digital divide, enabling students who can’t afford wireless access from home to access it through the district’s infrastructure.

Maintenance, however, would also be part of future costs (as it already is): ““You can’t have a massive amount of technology in our system without taking care of it,” Mike Judd, the district’s facilities director, said. “We all know that computers are obsolete in a relatively short amount of time. So a large amount of that money will keep us where we are.”

There’s also a new elementary and middle school in the works for sometime over the next 10 years, once growth resumes. The half-penny sales tax would pay for it. “It’s just a matter of time before we see growth again and we have to prepare for it,” Judd said.

The district doesn’t depend entirely on the half-penny sales tax for its capital needs. The state sets a portion of the school’s property tax to account for those needs. But the state has lowered that levy, from $2 per $1,000 in taxable value to $1.5 per $1,000. That, combined with the decrease in property values, means district revenue for capital needs has decreased from $22 million in 2007 to $14 million this year. Tom Tant, the district’s finance director, estimates property values will fall by at least 10 percent again this year.

The county’s half-penny sales tax idea has an uncertain future. The county and Bunnell favor it. Palm Coast and Flagler Beach do not, though they’d go along with a referendum. The school board is neutral on the matter. It’s not yet clear what the sales tax revenue, if approved, would pay for. In that regard, the proposal suffers from the kind of uncertainty that attached to last year’s proposal, by Enterprise Flagler—the county’s public-private economic development partnership—to raise the property tax and pay for new industrial buildings as bait for new industry. The referendum was scrapped before election day.

The county commission could approve a sales tax increase by a super-majority of four votes, but a majority of commissioners are opposed to that unilateral approach, preferring the referendum route. Most county and city officials have discussed those possibilities without taking the school board’s half-penny sales tax in consideration.

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12 Responses for “School Board Reminds County and Cities of Its Own 1/2 Penny Sales Tax Renewal Ahead”

  1. Justice for All says:

    Hmm. If the Governor is eliminating property taxes and corporate taxes, guess where he’s going to shift a portion of that loss in revenue…..SALES TAX. Everyone is going to end up at the same trough.

  2. Val Jaffee says:

    “The half-penny sales tax revenue is spent exclusively on capital needs. That means school buses, furniture, copiers, building additions, computers or anything else associated with technology.”

    This seems practical to me, but I am willing to listen to those against it.

    I am definitely in favor of restoring and keeping all bus routes for several reasons:

    I much prefer 5+ buses clogging the streets than a 100+ cars clogging the streets now that some parents have to take their kids to school becaue the bus route has been eliminated, especially with the price of gas steadily rising.

    I would prefer not to see kids walking alone along busy streets. Palm Coast is not exactly pedestrian friendly .

    Providing buses for all students reduce absentism and tardiness.

    I’m all for technology – permetiam boards / smart boards in all the classrooms would be beneficial too.

    Go ahead. That way even tourists and non residents can contribute. I think.

  3. Alex says:

    Private sector in the past 20 to 30 years increased productivity resulting reduced cost of doing business.

    Public service seems to be an exception.from increased efficiency.

    Public service always seem to be in need of public money.

    Is there going to be an end to this need?

  4. Monica Campana says:

    Perhaps district finance folks could provide examples of how they have increased efficiency using data that shows we have been educating more students with less dollars every year. Alex – you do realize that Florida per student funding is 50th in the nation? We perform miracles on a shoestring. All the tax breaks in the world will not bring business to a state that values its future so little.

  5. Technology says:

    All the technology in the world won’t matter if the kids can’t read, write, or do math.

  6. Marcus says:

    Monica, according to the US Census Bureau Florida ranks 35th. I am not saying that is something to celebrate, but it is better than 50th. See website below.

  7. palm coaster says:

    Alex I can tell you that productivity in the private sector have gain mostly to American Corporations dismantling their plants in the USA and setting them overseas to profit from slave wages they pay as well from unmonitored environmental pollution. The companies that remained here improved production by replacing workers and improving output with more technological advance equipment. Is not really with more efficient labor performance as played to be by your explanation.
    When we are talking about public service not all workers should be blamed, mostly the greedy administrators in top management positions with salaries over 150,000/year grossly overpaid are the decision makers that create the costly blunders for personal gain. As we the middle class of America generate with our income, payroll and sales taxes the greatest revenue that sustains our government budgets then as well we need to receive the public services we pay for. Without sufficient public employees then what kind of services we will receive? Our financial debacle was and is not cause by our public employees and their unions but instead by Wall Street moguls, Banks and the elite in control as they enrich themselves with it. Please look for different escape goats and live our workers and middle society out of it. “I will vote yes, for the half penny sales tax for schools on the referendum” That will be the only tax increase I will vote for it but please add the school buses needed so this parents do not have an added burden to drive their kids to school with this gouging at the pump or we have kids walking a mile or more to school with traffic and predators hazards around them.

  8. John Boy says:

    The pproblem is real simple, let’s dimantle all education, police, fire protection, code enforcement and every other public service. e don’t need any of it, we can let God take care of us, sarcasim off.

  9. Richard says:

    Hmmm Pierre.
    I thought you, of all people, might have NOT tagged the photo as “the-girls”.

  10. Jim Guines says:

    It is about time that the school board put out its flag to let everyone know what and why it has a need to continue with the use of its half-cent sale’s tax. Hiding infformation in a game whose program WAS FIRST can be dangerous whan you have so many agencies going to the same pool of funding.. Unfortuanately, ten years ago when the half -cent was applied for, the county, and cities and the school board went alone for the money and luclyy they all got their money. That may not be the case this time around.

  11. Jim Guines says:

    For an administrator to start using half-cent sales tax to build schools is just wrong headed, School building funds come from the state and impact fees. Talk like that will convince the public that school beople do not understand where their funds come from. All administrators should know what they are taking about, evien Senior Directors!!!

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