Anyone who doubts the new Flagler County School Superintendent Janet Valentine’s ability to take on an extremely popular former superintendent and an extremely unpopular issue, and manage to turn the school board in favor of an issue it had just recently opposed, should have a look at how Valentine scored a big win this week by reviving a school tax proposal.
Valentine took on Bill Delbrugge, the former superintendent whose advice the board followed when it rejected putting a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to approve a modest tax levy that would bring in an extra $2 million next year. (For the full explanation on that levy, go here.) Valentine took on the single-most unpopular political issue these days: taxes. And she managed to sway the board her way. All in a matter of 20 deftly choreographed minutes.
- “It Stinks That Flagler County Is Losing You”: School Board Bids Delbrugge Farewell
- How the Chamber’s Tax Proposal Undermines Schools, Cities and the County
- School Tax Rising for Second Year, Compensating for Crashing Property Values
- Commission Approves Chamber’s Tax Referendum for November Ballot
- Flagler County’s Half-Cent Sales Taxes for Schools and Infrastructure, 2002 Referendum Results
- How the Oil Slick Is Fouling Florida’s Government Budgets–And What To Do About It
The board was meeting for a workshop on various matters earlier this week. Talking about the tax referendum wasn’t on the agenda. But many budget issues were, and this was a critical budget issue that would have the district facing a $2 million revenue loss next year. So Evie Shellenberger, the board chairwoman, open the door to Valentine: “Ms. Valentine, you wanted to bring up the .25 mil?” (The tax in question would levy $0.25 for every $1,000 in taxable value, resulting into a tax of about $31 for a homesteaded house valued at $150,000). “I know we’ve talked about this before but we wanted to go over it just one more time.”
“We did talk about it before, and at that point the direction from the board was that they didn’t want to put it on the ballot. But I think that we needed to discuss this,” Valentine said, characteristically low-key: Whatever the issue—grave, light-hearted or neutral—Valentine addresses it with the same objective tone. “My concern,” she went on, “is that with the shortfall we’re going to have with the stabilization funds next year, and with the lack of a .25 mil the following year, in the 2011-12 school year, we’re going to be realizing about an $8 million in deficits.”
Valentine related what she saw at a recent meeting of the North East Florida Consortium, where she used to work, where a show of hand was asked of all the superintendents recommending that the tax be put on the ballot. Most did raise their hands “because they felt it was their duty to let the public decide whether or not they were going to levy the .25 mil on themselves for that year. They just felt like that they were almost forced to do that. So I just wanted to bring it up one more time and have Mr. Tant talk to you about where we are right now.”
Mr. Tant is Tom Tant, the school district’s finance director, whose numbers can paint a bright or bitter picture, depending on which way he presents them, though in this case it’s difficult to paint any bright picture for the two years ahead. He made a brief presentation summing up numbers that show how federal stimulus dollars that have brought in between $4 and $5 million will vanish after this year, how dropping valuations are lowering local revenue, making the district more vulnerable to fluctuations in state revenue, and how December’s tax-revenue estimates by the state may show yet another decrease due to the oil spill’s impact on the state’s sales tax (which relies heavily on tourism).
When Tant was done, the board members spoke in turn—Andy Dance rejecting the idea, Trevor Tucker declaring himself “on the fence,” and Evie Shellenberger, Sue Dickinson and Colleeen Conklin speaking in favor of the tax. No decision was actually made to put the tax on the ballot. The board couldn’t do that at a workshop anyway, where votes are never taken. But the board did decide to formalize the matter at a meeting in August: Valentine had spoke to the supervisor of elections to ensure that it wouldn’t be too late for the November ballot. It won’t be.
And just like that, Valentine had scored a considerable win on the very day when, just an hour later, she and the board would officially be bidding Delbrugge farewell.