Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Orange County commissioners OK school request to put renewal tax on Aug. 28 ballot

Stephen Hudak Orlando Sentinel May 23, 2018

Orange Public School officials say the renewal tax is essential. It would make up for what, with inflation factored in, they say has been a decrease in state funding in the past decade. "This is just absolutely necessary, " Chairman Bill Sublette said in April.

Orange County commissioners honored a request by the Orange County School Board and agreed Tuesday to put a proposal to renew a special school property tax on the Aug. 28 primary ballot.

The tax has helped pay for Orange public school operations since 2011 and school officials said it is still needed because of meager state education funding.

Commissioners’ action is a procedural step required by law.

In a unanimous vote in April, the School Board decided to again ask voters to support the tax of $1 for each $1,000 of taxable property value for public education.

Orange voters previously agreed to the tax in elections in 2010 and 2014, so a “yes” vote this year would keep it in place for another four years. The tax, which faced little organized opposition, passed with nearly 55 percent of the vote in 2010 and more than 76 percent in 2014.

For a resident with a home valued for tax purposes at $160,000 — the median value in the county — the property tax would cost $135 a year after the homestead exemption or $11.25 a month.

It would raise $622 million through 2023, money that would help pay for teacher raises and to maintain academic programs, arts, sports and other extracurricular activities at Orange schools.

School officials say the tax is essential.

It would make up for what, with inflation factored in, they say has been a decrease in state funding in the past decade.

“This is just absolutely necessary,” School Board Chairman Bill Sublette said in April.

Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said the money raised so far helped pay for 859 teachers, counselors and other key school jobs and allowed schools to keep hiring coaches, offer field trips and run after-school tutoring programs, among other benefits.

Orange school leaders were among those across Florida who had urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto the education section of the state budget passed by the Legislature this spring, arguing it didn’t adequately support public education.

He signed the entire budget last month, however, providing school districts more money to boost school safety but not much more in operating funds — the money districts use to cover rising costs for employee health care and fuel for school buses, among other items.

The state’s new budget provides only 47 cents more per student in so-called base student funding.

Orange needs $12 million in new money just to give its teachers a 1 percent raise.

shudak@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6361

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