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School Board Members Talking to Empty Benches at Town Halls on Tax Levy

| October 12, 2010

andy dance buddy taylor school tax referendum town hall

About 20 times more people turnout out for Andy Dance's wife's cooking at the potato festival last spring than they did for his presentation on a school tax levy Monday evening. (© FlaglerLive)

Tax chat, anyone? Apparently not.

When School Board member Colleen Conklin held a town hall meeting at the Flagler Beach City Hall last week, to discuss a school tax appearing on November’s ballot, seven people showed up. Four of them were school board employees. When School Board member Andy Dance did the same at Buddy Taylor Middle School last night (Oct. 11), 12 people showed up, counting Dance, another board member, two reporters and two Matanzas High School students who’d volunteered to take care of young children while their parents were presumably enraptured by Dance’s presentation. The students’ services were not needed, and they left.

Nevertheless Dance went through the 30-slide powerpoint about the proposal–a continuation of an existing tax, as the school district repeats every chance it gets, and not much of a tax at that: the 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed property works out to something like $30 to $35 on the average tax bill for the year. You’re already paying it. You’ve been paying it for years. But the Legislature last year, in what school officials describe fairly as political trickery, lawmakers changed the rules and now require school boards to ask voters’ permission for that supplemental tax before imposing it or continuing it. The tax raises about $2.1 million locally, or just under 2 percent of the local school district’s budget. That still equates to roughly 25 salaried teachers, for example.

The five school board members agreed to each hold a town meeting to explain the tax, field questions and get a sense of voters’ direction.

“A number of people I spoke to and invited said they didn’t need to go because they understood it and were going to support it,” Conklin said. “I hope that is the case. I’m not sure how to read the attendance. Could be it was the first one, with very short public notice, apathy or such strong feelings either for or against.”

Dance had a similar reaction to his scarcely attended meeting. “People are so polarized on both sides,” he said, “it’s one of those issues where there’s not much undecided, and there’s so few undecided, they’re not coming to the meetings.”

Dance spent his weekend manning a booth for the district and the tax initiative at the Creekside Festival, which drew well over 10,000 people. He talked to a few hundred, handed out 300 to 400 flyers, and got some sense of people’s thoughts about the tax: Those who stopped to talk wanted to make sure that it was just a continuation, not a new tax. Many were confused about the proposal on the ballot, mixing it up with the six proposed constitutional amendments listed there. It’s not an amendment, Dance reminded them, but a county referendum. (There’s also some confusion about which referendum: the one above it, for “economic development,” was scrapped by Enterprise Flagler, its chief sponsor, but it’s still on the ballot. It won’t be counted on election night.

“I was reasonably pleased with the number of people that were supportive,” Dance said. “I think people who weren’t supportive didn’t stop and talk,” and less than five stopped to have an argumentative discussion.

Monday evening, the conversation at Buddy Taylor circled around another muddying issue–the class-size amendment proposal on the ballot, which would ease some of the class-size ratios voters approved in 2002. If the amendment passes, districts and the Legislature could scale back some of their spending. But the Flagler district is going on the assumption that the amendment will fail, and budgeting the $900,000 or so necessary to implement the full class-size requirements in accordance with the 2002 constitutional amendment.

Another question was about the duration of the tax: two years. Dance did not specify, however, that the district intends to renew the tax in two years, or amend it.

At least two people in the tiny audience were tea party members. One of them, Dave Monington, wore his blue tea party shirt (“taxed enough already”) but said he hadn’t made up his mind about this school tax. Another, Aaron Gee, said, “right now, I have to sit back and think about it.” He was not opposed to a local school tax that benefited local school programs. But he is opposed to a tax that’s made more imperative as a complement or a replacement for one-time federal infusions of aid, as is the case now: Dance explained that the $7 million “funding cliff” the district faces after next year is partly the result of $5 million in federal stimulus dollars drying up.

Others in the small audience were more clearly supportive.

Three more town meetings with school board members are scheduled:

  • Trevor Tucker will be at the old Bunnell City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. That meeting will clash with a candidate forum at the main government building nearby.
  • Sue Dickinson will be at the Palm Coast Community Center on Palm Coast Parkway on Monday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m.
  • Evie Shellenberger will be at the Hammock Community Center on Malacompra Road off of State Road A1A on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m.
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6 Responses for “School Board Members Talking to Empty Benches at Town Halls on Tax Levy”

  1. Cheryl Tristam says:

    Two programs that are very dear to me were specifically mentioned in this presentation… strings and the IB program, both of which provide critical opportunities for the students of this county. I am the administrative director of the strings program that is currently teaching 320 Flagler students how to play violin/viola, cello and doublebass, and over the past five years has served approximately 1500 children. We’re better off because of those programs, and I happily support this tax that I am already paying and will happily continue to pay. It essentially works out to giving up a dinner at Ruby Tuesdays next year. I’m willing to do it for the students of Flagler.

  2. Palm Coast Pioneers says:

    We Palm Coast Pioneers and early purchasers always supported our Flagler Students for decades all last Century. That is why there was such high ranking here and this attracted many prospective buyers here also. Please continue to support our Flagler Students so we don’t go backwards this Century.
    Thank you.

  3. Barney Smythe says:

    Flagler schools need this tax! Maybe it will bring the schools up to the same teaching levels as other counties in the state. Just to say they have a high ranking means nothing when your students are a year behind others.

  4. Aaron Gee says:

    A clarification for your readers – I support the continuation of the .25 mill rate that is proposed and on the ballot.

    1. The tax isn’t new, merely a continuation of what is in place
    2. The tax has a sunset provision and a continuation would require another vote.
    3. The school district has worked hard to cut costs.

    What I will have to “sit back and think about it” is when this tax comes up for renewal.

    Each school’s improvement plans can be found at

    Aaron Gee

  5. Palm Coast Pioneers says:

    In big ways and in small ways, education in Flagler County and Palm Coast is building a reputation for quality.
    The numbers are there: students in all grades at three schools scored above the national norm in Reading, Language and Math sections of the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills; 67 percent of 1982 graduating high school seniors went on to post-secondary training, almost 50 percent to a four-year college orFlagler County.
    The Cooperation if ICED and other private university; seniors in the Class of ’83 scored above the state and national averages on the Scholastic Aptitude Test ( college board); 23 percent of those 1983 graduated received academic scholarships.
    What these impressive numbers fill to show is the strong support effort behind these achievements:
    257 Palm Coast and Flagler County adults and students put in 22,000 volunteer hours during the 1982-1983 year.
    The Flagler County School District’s administrators and elected officials have set as their goal the creation of one of the ten best school systems in Florida. It is a combination of progressive thinking, state-of-the-art facilities, public support and personal attention that is taking them there.
    More than 2,000 students at the elementary school, middle school and Flagler Palm Coast high School are the benefactors.
    They learn at schools with an average 16:1 student-teacher ratio.
    They supplement classroom instruction with computer-assistance programs.
    They learn trades in the high school’s extensive vocational training program.
    If needed, they take part in exceptional education programs specifically designed for students with learning or physical disabilities or in programs for gifted students.
    In perhaps the finest example of community spirit, they receive personalized assistance from Palm Coast and county residents and their fellow students in volunteer programs that earned all three schools and the Adult and Community Education Department Golden School Awards from the Florida department of Education.
    The Commitment doesn’t end after high school. DBCC;s dedication to higher education in Palm Coast and Flagler County is underscored by the new $ 600,000.00 center, on a 100 acre site with plenty of room for the college to grow with the community.
    Does anyone know where Flagler County ranks this Century? Are we *tenth* now like we were last Century or what? Thank you.

  6. Sue Dickinson says:

    All that any of us can ask is that when you go out to vote that you are educated on the issues. Please attend our next couple town hall meetings to ask your questions and get the facts. Monday night 7:00 PM. Palm Coast Community Center. See you there.

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