110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Al Everson
posted Sep 20, 2012 - 1:18:17pm
When Volusia County voters go to the polls Nov. 6 to elect a president and other officeholders, they will also decide whether to tax themselves more for public education.
The Volusia County School Board hopes to win public support for a 1-mill extra property tax for local schools, and the campaign to woo voters is now being formed.
“The reason for the 1-mill referendum is the financial crisis we’ve had over the years,” Superintendent Dr. Margaret Smith said.
To make their case, School Board members and Smith are mobilizing their allies — fellow educators, parents, civic organizations, local officials, business groups and others — to seek endorsements of the tax proposition from local governments and other influential groups.
“We’re getting a lot of requests for presentations now,” Smith said.
If the board and its side win at the polls Nov. 6, the tax would be levied each year for four years, beginning with the 2013-14 fiscal year. It would generate an estimated $26 million in new revenue, barring a further substantial decline in the value of Volusia County’s tax roll in the years ahead.
If the tax question fails, there will be more shrinkage of the school district’s spending, said Dr. Robert Moll, the assistant superintendent for financial services.
“We’re looking at a deficit of $26 million for the 2014 fiscal year,” he told The Beacon.
A rejection of the tax would require slicing the district’s workforce, Moll said.
“That’s a big decision for the superintendent and the board. Eighty-four percent of our budget is personnel, and it would affect all personnel,” Moll said. “Seventy percent of personnel expenditures are for teachers. It’s going to affect the entire district.”
Moll noted teaching jobs have already been eliminated.
“This year, we had a $19 million deficit, and we cut 354 positions, and 247 of those were teachers,” he said. “It could be very painful, trying to balance the budget.”
The Volusia School District’s proposed 2012-13 balanced budget totals just under $764 million. Of that amount, the general operating fund is about $456 million. Other portions of the budget include capital outlay, bonded-debt service, and special federal funds.
The new budget is based on a property tax rate of 7.888 mills, or $7.89 per thousand dollars of taxable value. That levy is below the 8.06 mills set by the School Board for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
Over the past five years, the Volusia School District has sustained about $97 million in funding reductions. Those losses in state appropriations have forced the local school system to cut spending and its payroll.
Vacant jobs have been eliminated, steps have been taken to save on electricity bills, and there has been only one pay raise for employees in four years.
Since the recession began in late 2007, the School Board and its administration have cut out approximately 1,900 personnel slots, mostly by attrition, but also by merging or combining positions.
As they seek grass-roots support for an additional 1-mill tax, will the School Board spend precious tax dollars in the campaign?
“The law allows us to educate the public, as long as we don’t try to tell them how to vote,” Moll said.
As for ways to get the message out, School Board Member Candace Lankford says she and her colleagues have not considered forming a political action committee.
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