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As County Ratifies School Levy Referendum, Elections Supervisor Lines Up Concerns

| March 18, 2013

Contrary to popular assumptions, school taxes are considerably lower today than they were a few years ago, and have been declining steadily for most of the last two decades. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Contrary to popular assumptions, school taxes are considerably lower today than they were a few years ago, and have been declining steadily for most of the last two decades. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Commission Monday evening unanimously approved placing a school board levy on a special referendum ballot on June 7—a Friday—at a cost that may exceed $100,000, but not before Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks raised concerns about the short window of time between now and Election Day.

Weeks, who expects a very low turn-out, is not planning on having an early-voting site. She was listing a series of issues that may add to the cost of the election, including precinct-change notices and having to employ poll workers on a Saturday, since June 7, the day of the election, falls on a Friday. The commission and the school board, however, are pressing for early voting. The school board will be paying those costs, not the county commission, though as Weeks noted, in the end, it’s all taxpayer dollars.

By state law, any local referendum must be approved and placed on the ballot by the county commission. A few commissioners raised questions about the fine print behind the levy: Commissioner Frank Meeker wondered about building in recurring costs into the school budget based on a levy scheduled to expire in four years. Commissioner Barbara Revels asked what the school board’s plan will be should—as Revels herself says is beginning to happen—economic activity pick up in the county, should more students move in, and should the state send the school district more money to account for those students. And Commissioner George Hanns asked whether the district had a Plan B should the referendum fail.

School Board member Colleen Conklin, battling a cold, made the case for the levy before the commission alongside School Board attorney Kristy Gavin–highlighting without saying a word the fact that Andy Dance, the school board chairman, who’d normally be making the case himself, was a dissenter in the board’s decision to go ahead with the levy. Dance said he’d be supportive of the district’s campaign after making his position clear, but his absence before the commissioners showed the limit of his support. Conklin had precise explanations on what the money will pay for, but less precise answers to the questions raised by the commissioners.

If the levy fails, the district will be forced to find almost $4 million in cuts (that’s roughly the amount the levy will raise annually, the equivalent of more than 4 percent of the district’s general fund budget). It can reduce the impact of those cuts by further dipping into its reserves, which are at around $4 million, but the district will be taking from its reserves even if the levy passes, because it expects to need to make some cuts anyway. And the reserves are dwindling. What those cuts will be is unclear, though it’s almost certain that the day’s 45 minutes in instructional time will not be restored. Whether, should the levy fail, school cops will be placed in elementary schools is a question left unanswered so far. Conklin was less clear about other questions, such as what the district would do if it suddenly had an influx of money.

Charlie Ericksen. (© FlaglerLive)

Charlie Ericksen. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioner Charlie Ericksen on two occasions said he was voting to approve the levy because, he said, as a county commissioner, it was not his place to second-guess the school board’s decision. (The board voted 4-1 last week to go ahead with the referendum.) Ericksen also noted that his vote did not reflect the way he would personally vote himself, though he did not say which way he would go.

About half a dozen people spoke to the commission about the referendum, all but one in favor of the school levy. They spoke of necessary sacrifices as well as the modest cost of the levy: the school board will ask voters to renew an existing levy worth 25 cents on every $1,000 in taxable value, and add a new 25 cent levy to help pay for more security measures in elementary schools, and to restore 45 minutes a day to the school schedule. That time was eliminated two years ago in a cost-saving measure.

The net cost, for a house valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption (only $25,000 of which applies to school taxes), would be $31.25 a year

“It comes to the point where you get tired of hearing about the kids,” Jack Carrell, a constant presence at local government meetings, said, in a characteristically caustic lashing. “There becomes a point where that cup of coffee comes out of my pocket,” he said, referring to a favorite comparison tax advocates use to sell their levy: that it would cost less than the cost of a weekly cup of coffee. A daily medium latte from Starbucks, which costs $3, would run more than $1,000 a year, or $90 a month. “If you can’t adjust and work out your own budget, there’s no need to come back for more. We’re being taxed up the boobs,” Carrell said.


The surprise of the evening, however, was Weeks, who appeared to be positioning the commission and the district for a stiff bill from her office to pay for the special election. She said that she’d initially heard from board officials in January that they were interested in a special levy referendum (another surprise, since the board publicly unveiled the proposal only earlier this month). At that time, Weeks said she told the district that she would need 90 days to prepare for the election. She did not hear back for several weeks, by which time the 90-day window had closed.

Weeks said holding an election on a Friday is “unusual” and will pose special challenges, possibly confusing voters and lowering turnout. But the board’s decision to hold the election on a Friday has already been taken, with neither public discussion from school board members nor public input before the school board. Weeks said early voting, in her reading of state law, is not required in a special election, and she had no intention of having an early voting site, though she will allow voters to cast the equivalent of an early voting ballot should they show up at the elections office. It will be an absentee ballot. “It’s not early voting,” Weeks said. “You don’t want to advertise that as early voting.”

Gavin, the district attorney, said the board would still like the opportunity to have early voting, but it wasn’t clear if she meant early voting by way of an absentee ballot, or early voting at an early voting site.

Another surprise from Weeks: she had recommended to the school board to hold an all-mail election (voting exclusively by first class mail), which, Weeks said, would improve turnout. But there was no interest from the board to do so.

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30 Responses for “As County Ratifies School Levy Referendum, Elections Supervisor Lines Up Concerns”

  1. kmedley says:

    The All-Mail Election would be a smart move and the School Board should consider approving it. The Statutes provide for it, F.S. 101.6102 and 101.6103. It would be more cost effective and the returns have the potential of being better than a traditional voter turnout at the polls. This would alleviate the need to find alternate polling locations, mail out change notices and new voter information cards, and then reverse the changes after the Special Election. Good stewards of the people’s money?! If that were the case, then why not consider this option. Other Florida counties take advantage of this and in times of tight money, Flagler County should look for more efficient ways to spend our money.

  2. Dollarsandsense says:

    I read in the Observer the special election was also including mental health services for students. What is up with his? Why isn’t that mentioned in the article here?

    The school board has had a decline in enrollment and is still asking for more money by special election. They say they were prepared for the .25 mill to expire in June, but when the Sandyhook school shooting occurred it was a game changer. Sounds like a knee jerk reaction to me.

    If you had to put $100,000 of your money up for a special election that you weren’t guaranteed to get the results you desired, would you do it? I didn’t think so! This goes to show the school board members and county commissioners don’t spend out tax money like it is their money.

    Thank you Kimberle Weeks for advising us taxpayers that this is going to cost extra because the school board waited until the last minute to approve a special election, and then didn’t care the day they picked wasn’t good to open all voting locations. I think they want voters to be confused so they can try to control the outcome.

  3. Nomorewaste says:

    I don’t mind paying more when it comes to education, but I don’t want to see my tax dollars wasted neither. IMO, this is a small to medium school district with some salaries in line with much larger districts, the restoration of the lost 45 minutes of curriculum time would be my paramount concern but I believe adding a tech center at FPC at a cost of over 400 thousand should be put on hold until the economy improves. School security with SRO’s is the most expensive way to go, I didn’t read or hear if the FCSB has even looked at other maybe less expensive options. I’m not sure I can wrap my head around this to vote for it and the election is now over 100 thousand and to be payed by the tax payer because the board wanted a friday election? This is just so wasteful!

  4. Jojo says:

    Seems to me that the School Board is hoping the less voters turn out – the better the results for passing the referendum?

    I agree 100% with Kmedley, an “All Mail Vote” is much more efficient since the School Board is only trying to confuse and complicate this very important vote. Why did the Board pick a Friday? Why is the Board against a vote by mail? Because more people get a chance to vote instead of a 5 to 7% turnout which the Board is hoping for.

    The Mail Vote is less cost effective and would garner more votes than going to the poll. Put a stop to the madness by the School Board of asking for more money and vote No!

    • Isay says:

      Let the supervisor we elected do her job without the micromanagement . If she thinks a mail election is best, let her do it!

  5. Ralph Belcher says:

    If I think of all the letters I’ve never mailed… it doesn’t bother me to vote on a Friday. I’ve done it during regular elections when they have EARLY VOTING. Even done it on a Sunday. And my beloved Greek-born neighbor and good friends keep reminding me, through an LP on the turntable, “Never on a Sunday”… (grin)

    Seriously…

    The SOE was concerned over her kid having twins about the same time as the election, so that’ll put her in a spot between responsibilities of family and of her duties she was elected to do. Not an easy spot to be in I’m sure.

    Godspeed to the Weeks family and to the School District on all counts.

  6. Stevie says:

    The Friday election will provide a golden opportunity for pro tax forces to load the polls with people who don’t work and won’t pay higher real estate taxes if the referendum goes through. Mail in ballots would level the playing field for those who work and pay taxes.

    I hope some one does an expose of the costs of school administration increases over the past decade or so. I have heard it is nearly a 700%. increase.

  7. tulip says:

    The school board is disgusting in the way they are pushing this. The BOCC has doubts, but they still vote for the election? Revels and Meeker had questions, but still voted yes, Ericksen said it isn’t the way he would necessarily vote, but said yes? Hahns in his usual “vote for the way the wind blows” voted yes and McLauglin–oh well.

    I never thought I’d never agree on something Weeks had to say, but the mail idea is a good one. However, the school board wants a low physical turn out so they will win. This attitude should provoke people who are against the levy to tell their friends to get out and vote NO. However, the usual voter apathy will prevail.

  8. Kendall says:

    The amount we would be taxed is negligible and I really don’t mind investing it in our schools, however I will vote against this tax unless all of it is allocated FIRST to restoring the 45 minutes to the school day that was cut a couple of years ago. This is more important than SROs, a tech lab and the other things being discussed. ALL of our county’s children will benefit from the additional learning time as opposed to just a few.

  9. PCer says:

    No new taxes!!! The school board needs to be creative and get kids back in the seats at the schools. I will be pulling my son from Flagler Schools and homeschooling through FLVS next year because of the lack of teaching skills I have found in the middle schools. With the coming of common core, many of our teachers will be struggling to meet the new standards. This will lead to more students leaving the schools for private or homeschool options. This will lead to more loss of revenue for the school board and the need for more taxes. How about the board start finding ways to fill those seats and get the money from the state in FTE dollars rather than tax dollars from already strapped households in Flagler County? The board needs to look at some of the larger districts and see what they have done to save money creatively while still maintaining high standards. Check out what Alberto Carvalho has done in Miami-Dade county . There are amazing things happening in that county as a result of his out of the box thinking. Many of those things could be modified to fit our schools and smaller county.

  10. Anon says:

    The chance for low voter turnout for this election is overwhelming. The probability is so overwhelming that no bookmaker would establish a line.

    Wasn’t this the county commission (there are a couple of new faces) that was excoriating Mrs. Weeks over her request for a budget increase. Now they approve what could be a $100,000 plus expenditure. It is unnecessary because the tax increase should have been included in the referendum last November. But these are politicians whose nickel and dime slick behaviors are too often self serving.

    It is clear that refusing to use mail voting is a means to suppress votes. On the other hand with the number of apathetic clones in this county don’t expect much more that 6% of the voters to turn out. Of the approximately 70,000 registered voters there may be 4,500 votes cast, at best.

    I am voting NO.

    • Perky Pellican says:

      didn’t they tell mrs weeks to live within her budget and move monies around to get by….shouldn’t the board have asked the school board to do the same?

      i bet not one school board or board of county commissioner would have put a personal check on the table to cover special election expenses knowing it was a gamble that may not produce the desired outcome.

  11. Bunnell resident says:

    Wow!

    “If the levy fails, the district will be forced to find almost $4 million in cuts (that’s roughly the amount the levy will raise annually, the equivalent of more than 4 percent of the district’s general fund budget). It can reduce the impact of those cuts by further dipping into its reserves, which are at around $4 million.”

    Based on the wording of the article $4 million dollars is 4% of the school budget? Based on the math I learned in school, that would mean they already have a $100 million dollar operating budget. Then they want to throw away $100k for a special election? Poor planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on our part. They knew the levy was expiring long ago. This is simply a case of lacking the courage to ask the voters for what they need.

    Usually being afraid to ask for something means you don’t really need it or you know you are mismanaging what you already have. A mail-in ballot would cost no more than $50k. Have they looked at providing armed private security guards? They could be employed at a great savings as opposed to hiring new deputies and could be employed for 9 months a year as opposed to deputies who will have to be employed year round and earn a pension as well.

    Cost of one deputy will be $80k to $100k per year, cost of one private security guard? Maybe $30k to $35k…

    How about privatizing or contracting for school lunches, etc. I would rather the schol board hire a consultant to help them identify potential cost savings of $4 million. I bet I could do that for them and I wouldn’t charge a dime…

    If you are truly managing taxpayer dollars efficiently, you should never be afraid to ask for more when needed. The taxpayers understand that schools are not free. I would rather see school teachers reap the benefits “pay raise” with some of this additional revenue than to hire more deputies for what would arguably be the easiest duty assignment any deputy would ever have.

    • Nancy N. says:

      WOW. You know NOTHING about schools, do you? Privatizing or contracting school lunches? Have you ever heard of a little thing called the National School Lunch Program? School lunches are served to kids as part of a directly ***Federally Funded*** program. You can’t make cuts to expenses for food service and divert the money elsewhere. It’s federally designated money.

      You keep going on about the school board being afraid to ask for something must mean they know they don’t need it or are using poorly what they have. Haven’t you ever been afraid to bring up a topic with someone because you knew they were going to have an unreasonable freak out over it? This levy is critical for the district but the mere mention of “raising taxes” in this town brings out the pitchforks and torches. The very comments we’ve seen in the articles here on Flagler Live justify their concern in bringing it up! People get crazy over the topic! You could tell people in this town that their very lives depended on a ten cent a month tax increase and they would bitch and moan and threaten to vote out every elected official!

      As for using private security guards…you get what you pay for. I don’t want bargain basement rent-a-cops “patrolling” my child’s school armed with a weapon. I don’t want armed guards, period, but if they have to be there…my kid is worth paying for fully qualified deputies to minimize the risks of their presence in the building. If there’s going to be someone potentially firing a gun in that building, I want it to be a fully trained deputy.

      • Bunnell resident says:

        Wow! So privatizing or contracting school lunches would be a bad idea just because it is federally funded? Last I looked the federal government was over $16 trillion dollars in debt and maybe they could use a fresh idea or two. Private securityguards protect nuclear plants in this country so I am sure they can hire competent people to protect our children. I am not against new taxes, I am against the approach they are taking to get them. I expect them to also be good stewards of all taxpayer money regardless of whether it comes from the federal, state, or local level. Flagler county has done an excellent job at controlling spending during this poor economy and I applaud their efforts. Do you realize Flager is one of the few counties that actually operate with a balanced budget? Painful choices yes! I am not holding a putch fork and I will reluctantly vote yes for the tax increase which will cost me over $200 a year. This even though I do not have a child attending public schools. If Flagler county asks for a tax increase I will also vote yes, because I know they have truly done the dirty work of cutting everywhere they can. Did you also notice that I advocated for a raise for our school teachers? Asking our school board to spend money wisely is not the same as pulling out a pitch fork. If you are a school teacher as I expect you are, I hope we can get you a raise. School teachers are grossly underpaid! Your assumption that taxpayers ar e unreasonable is questionable. When is the last time taxpayers here voted down a requested increase? Yes, there may be some complaining but all that complaining serves to make our leaders think twice about how they soend our money. Forums such as these allow people to express their opinions and I honor and value yours.

      • Bunnell resident says:

        Wow Nancy! I just looked up the federal school lunch proram and to my amazement the average federal contribution per school lunch for 2012-2013 comes to 22.75 cents per meal. And of course nothing is free so for these 22.75 cents per meal they get to dictate nearly everything about what gets served. Excerpt from federal register: When computed on the basis of unrounded data and rounded to the nearest one-quarter cent, the resulting national average for the period July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013 will be 22.75 cents per meal.

        There is no restriction from the federal government mandating the servers be public employees however and the money also goes to charter schools. Before they closed, the Global Outreach Charter Academy in Palm Coast had catered meals for their students the quality of which will never be matched in our school district. That’s right, catered meals. And they still got their 22.75 cents from the federal government. So there goes that argument. Our school board leadership gets paid well enough and they should be grown up enough to plan for what they need, ask for it in a timely manner, and be the best guardians of taxpayer money they can be. If the the taxpayers pull out the pitch forks they can then go back with pride and demonstrable data proving they are doing a good job with our money. We just had a general election in November and they could have had this issue on the ballot without spending an extra $100k of taxpayer money so that maybe 1000 people will show up to vote. That is my biggest gripe because it stinks of cronyism. I for one have faith in taxpayers to collectively make the right decision when presented with all the facts. Sad to say their actions show they do not have faith in the taxpayers which means they do not have faith in their own community.

      • Brad W says:

        Nancy,

        Do you what our School’s budget is this year?

        How much do you pay in school taxes this year?

        I pay over $1,000, and that’s more than what the County gets. Am I not contributing enough already?

  12. Eric says:

    Conklin told the Supervisor to deal with the challenges she will face with this election short of her 90 day request, and voting locations not being available…she should live by her own advice.

  13. wsh302@msn.com says:

    “NO” for me

  14. kmedley says:

    This is nothing more than taking a page from the national political playbook. Create a crisis and push tax increases as the only answer. The School Board knew about this tax scheduled to sunset this year; and, in Ms. Conklin’s own words, it was a choice, it was an “Or” decision. The School Board chose to put the 1/2 cent sales tax on the ballot. Then, according to Ms. Conklin, Sandy Hook was a game changer. Here we see the use of a tragedy as a way to stir emotions and add to the crisis. So, according to Ms. Conklin a commission was put together to study security issues. They fanned out across the county and looked at weaknesses at schools. Like all studies, it comes with a price tag. Yet, we still can’t limit the issue to the $275,000 sought for security. The School Board now wants to renew a levy they chose to allow to sunset and, since that won’t be enough, they seek more taxes.

    To further complicate the issue, the SOE correctly asked for a 90 notice from the School Board in order to properly prepare for the election. That’s a reasonable request since the Special Election is not being called to fill a vacant office. By offering the all mail election, this would avoid having to change precinct locations and offer a chance for a better turnout. The School Board still wants Early Voting for an election that will yield 2000 voters if we are lucky.

    This is nothing more than an attempt by the School Board to draw from the well by the consent of just a few and it is their hope there is a low voter turnout so our money can be transferred to their coffers. This is NOT good stewardship of the people’s money and the BOCC failed in their duties, too.

  15. Rosepetal says:

    We need to go back to electing our school superintendent. It appears Janet Valentine lacks good management skills. Add this to the ballot this special election.

    • Anonymous says:

      Who is going to write up the referendum to change the school superintendent Janet Valentine’s position from being appointed to being elected, and ask the board of commissioners permission to put it on the ballot this special election?

      We currently have a superintendent that only answers to her 5 best friends (the school board members) and not the majority of the population or even the teachers themselves.

  16. snapperhead says:

    That the mil rate has dropped is irrelevant. So has incomes. Not too mention the bloated inflation that government hides by using a bogus CPI. I will turnout and I will vote NO. Security in schools is wasted money and where does it end. if there ends up being a bus stop shooting are we then going to pay for armed guards on all buses or at all bus stops?

  17. Jr says:

    The sky is falling routine by Conklin again. All this referendum shows is the lack of experience and illuminates the shallowness of the FCSB and the BOCC. Hey! Why don’t you have a midnight vote like the Plantation Bay debacle and catch us all sleeping. Flagler County residents should be outraged and show it by voting NO!

    • DLF says:

      According to Conklin, the sky is always falling, special sky falling warning when it comes to spending our money, special special sky falling warning when it comes to the school board pay. Why do we keep electing these people, what is their past experience, besides being parents. What is their educational background, teachers, management, or just parents. We need to remember these people when they are up for re-election and fire all of them.

  18. Rosepetal says:

    If the school board members and county commissioners were so confident that this special election should take place, they should all be required to put their own personal money up to pay the expense, and then be refunded if it passes. I bet they wouldn’t take the gamble with their personal money, yet they will with our tax dollars. Shame on them when this could have been on the ballot just 3 months ago, or on the next regular election ballot.

  19. stevie says:

    “School lunches are served to kids as part of a directly ***Federally Funded*** program. ”

    Federal funds come from right here at home. We send the money to D.C. to get redistributed and then we get back a portion of what we sent. This is a rip off that has gone on too long. We can take care of the feeding of the poor in many ways far better. What we are doing now is encouraging poverty while we sell the country to foreigners and it doesn’t work.

    • Bunnell resident says:

      Stevie, You are so right. The federal government takes our money, attaches strings to it and then sends a portion of it back to us and we are supposed to be greatful. In the meanwhile the unemployment rate in Washington D.C. is about the lowest in the nation.

  20. HFD says:

    Bunnell Resident
    If it isn’t worth the involvement, and the strings attached aren’t what is best, then don’t participate in their program. Usually if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

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