If Sarasota County voters choose to extend a 1-mill property tax for the Sarasota County School Board next year, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations wants to know exactly where that money goes.
At its meeting Saturday, CCNA encouraged the school board to include the creation of a citizen oversight board in the ballot language for the upcoming tax referendum, scheduled for March 2014.
Under the Sarasota Coalition of Business Association’s (COBA) proposal, the citizen board would provide reports on how the school board used the tax revenue, if it were approved. The school board would also be required to implement a financial tracking system to monitor how that money was used.
An informational packet, which COBA crafted and distributed at the CCNA meeting, pushed for various community organizations to join the call for the oversight board.
“The intent of the original referendum was to bring excellence to our schools,” the packet states. “The Sarasota County School Board will receive our support if a referendum is crafted that more closely follows the intent of the original referendum and adds to it more accountability.”
Former Mayor Kelly Kirschner gave a presentation at Saturday’s meeting regarding the proposal. Kirschner emphasized the school board should more clearly account for how it spends money from the tax, which has generated about $40 million annually since first being approved in 2002. He also criticized the evolving language of the referendum over time.
Originally, Kirschner said, the 1-mill tax was targeted toward excellence in the schools — particularly the arts and sciences. The tax was approved again in 2006 and 2010, but the wording of the referendum changed. 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 funding; he believes the oversight board would help address that problem.
In a recent interview with the Sarasota 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 toward 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.”
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