Note: Early voting begins Saturday, Aug. 4, leading up to the primary election on Aug. 14. All registered Flagler County voters, regardless of party affiliation–including Independents, Democrats and Republicans–may cast a vote in the referendum asking voters to renew the half-penny sales tax for schools. The referendum would merely renew the tax, which was approved in 2002 with 70 percent of the vote. The results of the referendum on Aug. 14 will decide the matter.
By Andy Dance
Ten years ago, the citizens of Flagler County approved a half penny sales tax referendum to benefit the Flagler County School District. The funds were dedicated for capital projects and for improving technology in the classroom. As a school board member and parent, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your investment in education ten years ago. That half-penny made a world of difference to our students.
At the time, Flagler County was growing rapidly, and the District was having a hard time keeping up with the growth. The additional funding was essential as it allowed the District to keep up with growth. Over the past ten years, the half-penny has generated 34 million dollars, and provided the necessary funding to:
- Construct Belle Terre Elementary School
- Implement a 3:1 computer ratio of students to computers in the classroom
- Implement “Smart Classroom” technology, allowing teachers access to a wide assortment of media to supplement classroom instruction
- Install wireless networking in all school buildings
- Provide an on-line parent grade book, allowing parents access to student grades
- Implement additional safety measures at all schools.
I see the benefits provided to the schools and ultimately the students through the half-penny proceeds on a daily basis. Whether I am visiting a school on a particular day, listening to fellow parents talk about the technology based classroom projects and activities their children are involved with or reviewing projects and assignments with my own children in the evening, I am continually amazed at the way our teachers and administrators are infusing technology into classroom instruction. This commitment to technology keeps the students engaged in their studies and helps prepare the students for future high-tech jobs that await them after graduation.
Ten years later, Flagler County Schools are facing an entirely different landscape. Amid the “Great Recession”, the economic conditions are drastically different than ten years ago. In just the last six years, school funding has been slashed, property values have plummeted and our state and local economies have tanked. The state capital funds that the District has relied on in the past have seen significant reductions. State Capital funding has gone from $33.5 million dollars to 0.9 million dollars. The legislature reduced the capital millage rate from 2 to 1.5 mills. Local capital revenue has dropped 77%, with only 5.6 million dollars being available this year (after debt service) for all capital expenditures. At the same time, our student population has increased by 200 students, so we are servicing more students with significantly less funding. We have been able to weather this storm with creative cost reductions from all facets of district operations and balancing the budget every year as required by state law.
As we look to the future, all the economists predict a slow recovery. There are no more stimulus funds; no more short term fixes on the horizon. The school district will continue to be creative in its cost reduction strategies; looking for cost savings from every part of our operations while ensuring we continue to invest in curriculum, programs and technology that promotes the District’s mission and vision. To this end, the Flagler County School District is asking for your continued investment of a half-penny to support our schools. Now more than ever, we need the support of the local community. We are asking for your continued investment in the education of our most precious resource, our children.
Property Appraiser Jay Gardner on the Half-Penny Sales Tax[media id=290 width=250 height=250]
Please remember that the half penny funding is dedicated to capital expenditures, so the district can only use these funds on hard, tangible items like building construction, renovation and repair, computers and other educational devices and their implementation and school safety. Just as important is the fact that this funding source adds capital funding flexibility for the District, allowing us to be creative and best utilize the state capital funds the District receives for the specific needs of Flagler County Schools.
The continuance of the half penny is critical to the District for many reasons. First and foremost, the funding will allow us to focus on our District mission of ensuring educational success through high expectations and innovative thinking in a safe learning environment. The annual revenue of 4 million dollars from the half-penny is needed to keep our schools in good condition, keep our technology up to date with the demands of new curriculum and testing requirements and ensure the safety and security of our students.
With the continuance of this half penny, the district can accomplish the following:
- Renovating and repairing our existing, aging school campuses. For example, aging roofs and air conditioning systems need repairs and/or replacement
- Upgrading computers and hardware & replacing outdated technology
- Expanding use of technology in the classroom and reducing the student to computer ratio
- Implement the state requirement for electronic textbooks by 2014
- Properly support the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Academy
- Expand iFlagler (virtual school) and increase access to computers and computer labs for students
- Develop a Microsoft IT Academy, providing students an opportunity to earn Microsoft Industry Certification before they graduate
- Ensure technology infrastructure is ready to handle the electronic assessments that are required for the Common Core State Standards Initiative
- Reduce stress on the general fund to allow for the continuation and expansion of programs like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Service Learning, Future Problem Solvers, Community Problem Solvers, sports, clubs, and the arts
- Flexibility to utilize other capital resources for the purchase of new school buses to replace our aging fleet of buses
In conclusion, the Flagler County School district has placed the renewal of the half– penny sales tax on the August 14th ballot for the many reasons stated above. You will have the opportunity on August 14th to once again demonstrate that Flagler County voters support investing in a high quality school system. Great schools are critically important to the health and economic stability of our community.
In support of the high quality education in Flagler County, a political action committee called “Funding Flagler’s Educational Future – 2012, PAC” (FFEF) was created to inform and encourage citizens to support the half– penny sales tax. The committee created a Facebook page and webpage with the slogan “Make Cents 4 Kids” to help spread the word.
FFEF believes strongly that the renewal of the half-cent sales tax is critical to the quality of education in Flagler County, and they are asking that you join them in support of this referendum. Please “Like” the MakeCents4Kids Facebook page and visit the informational webpage for more information. From the webpage you can sign up to join FFEF, register to volunteer or submit a donation to FFEF to help support the mission and spread the word about the importance of the half–penny to Flagler County Schools.
Thank you again for your past support and your consideration for continuing the half- penny referendum.
Andy Dance is a member of the Flagler County School Board, representing District 1. Reach him by email here.