If Sarasota County voters choose to extend a 1-mill property tax levied by the Sarasota County School Board next year, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations wants to know exactly where that money goes.
At its meeting today, CCNA encouraged the School Board to include the creation of a citizen oversight board in the ballot language for the upcoming tax referendum, currently scheduled for March 2014.
Under this proposal, created by the Sarasota Coalition of Business Associations, that board would provide reports on exactly how the School Board used the revenue generated by the 1-mill tax, if it were approved. The School Board would also be required to implement a financial tracking system to monitor how that money was spent.
Former City Commissioner Kelly Kirschner gave a presentation at today’s CCNA meeting regarding the proposal. Kirschner said it was important that the School Board is held accountable for how they use the money from the tax, which has generated about $40 million annually since first being approved in 2002.
Kirschner also criticized the evolving language of the referendums over time. Originally, Kirschner said, money from the 1-mill tax was targeted towards excellence in the schools — particularly the arts and sciences. The last referendum, from 2010, said the tax would pay for “operating expenses necessary to maintain academic programs and teaching positions.”
That shift, Kirschner said, means it’s more difficult for voters to ascertain what it is their money is going towards; he believes the oversight board would help address that problem. In a recent interview with the Observer, School Board member Jane Goodwin said the 1-mill levy funds about 12% of the schools’ operating budget.
CCNA Chairman Bob Easterle said asking for the oversight board was likely a losing battle, but he wanted the School Board to know that the proposal had some support behind it. He said the School Board should view the extra responsibility as a necessary step towards enlightening taxpayers rather than a burden.
“We don't want another bureaucracy,” Easterle said. “We want good transparency and oversight that we don't think we're getting right now.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected].