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.
- The Full Tax Presentation
- The Other Tax Referendum: School District Battles Misperceptions to Preserve Levy
- In a Shift, Andy Dance Joins Unanimous Vote for School Tax Referendum in November
- Move Over, Delbrugge: How Janet Valentine Shifted the School Board on a Tax Levy
- Hometown Democracy and Class-Size Amendments Spark Up Civic Association Forum
- Tax-Averse Parents Send Per-Student Spending Tumbling in Flagler Schools
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.