Education is a topic that spans young pre-kindergarten little ones to adults walking across a graduation platform. A lot happens from the first day until the last day. Providing for public education is the single largest local taxpayer expense and the tax is provided by property taxes. More than half of your tax bill is for education, and my job is to ensure we provide a good return for our investment.
The Manatee County School Board has meetings scheduled twice a month on Monday evenings, and topics on the agenda range from awards to consent items and new business. Millions of dollars are appropriated at these meetings, and preparing for each meeting requires time to read and research the data on each item as well as reading contracts and legal agreements.
Because I am either preparing for a School Board meeting, budget meeting or community meeting, it is easy to get caught up in the details of issues. There could be issues, questions or concerns that you may have, and this is a good opportunity for you to ask your District 3 representative what is on your mind.
This month, we will be scheduling a hearing to vote on union contracts. Each year, these contracts are prepared and bargained. This past year, the Superintendent’s Office, School Board and union reps were not able to come to agreement. The issues were sent to a special magistrate to review each side’s proposals and make determinations about where each party stands on negotiations. On the table are proposed pay cuts for teachers, and as each side made their case, the magistrate’s rulings were that the health-care plan was tied to funds available for salaries.
The dollars for health care have been on the rise for some time. Because budgets at the state level are cut, so are funds to our county, and this is one cost that has escalated. All of the board members have been asking questions, comparing other districts and government programs and working toward finding solutions on this issue.
What is clear is that we cannot continue to do the same things each year expecting different results. This will be one of the single issues requiring a lot of documentation and discussion to ensure that quality health care is provided to employees of the district at a budget amount that allows to pay for operational expenses. This is no small task.
I’ve been asked if votes are supposed to be unanimous. Many times, we are in agreement and items can move quickly on an agenda. There are times we spend a lot time on a few items and votes may not be unanimous. Votes on the School Board are not required by law to be unanimous; they are required to be recorded, and the majority (or three votes) decides the action of the School Board.
Another recent question asked was whether we are angry with one other when we do not vote unanimously. I have not witnessed in my own dealings, or in the rooms where we meet prior to a meeting, a single time when there was anger over a vote. I cannot always recall each member’s vote and who voted which way on a particular motion. What is important to note is that whenever a majority vote has been entered into the record, it becomes policy, and we move forward from that point to the next item on the agenda.
I hope we will use this opportunity from the East County Observer to make this space and time available to address the concerns of East County residents and their issues on education.