It’s that time of year.
All of our taxing authorities are in the midst of budgeting for next year. And for taxpayers, it’s easy to get a bad case of “MEGO” — “My Eyes Glaze Over” — when all of the news reports come out about proposed millage rates (aka property-tax rates). Especially when you hear the same old songs — our government bodies reciting the annual “woe-is-us” refrain of not enough money to provide the services taxpayers are demanding.
Welcome to just about every household’s world.
In the fog of all of these numbers, it is indeed easy to lose perspective. For instance, the Sarasota City Commission last week adopted a maximum millage rate of 3.172 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, an 8.5% increase. While that would be a big jump — certainly well above the nation’s inflation rate — when compared to the Sarasota County School District and Sarasota County, city property taxes comprise only 19% of your local taxes.
As the dollar bill and millage-rate table show, the biggest portion of your property taxes funds public schools.
And yet, school funding typically tends to get the least amount of public scrutiny.
In Sarasota County public schools, there’s a case to be made the district certainly is doing more with less. According to district figures, the amount of money spent per student has contracted 11% since the 2007-2008 school year. Consider:
• 2007-2008: $10,730/student
• 2013-2014: $9,510/student
What’s more, district budget figures show the district has reduced its total staffing count 11% in that period, from 5,848 to an expected 5,197 staffers for the 2013-2014 school year.
And yet, student enrollment will be almost equal in the next year versus what it was when the economic downturn began in the 2007-08 school year — roughly 37,840 students. And student performance is holding steady. Sarasota public schools continue to rank among the highest in the state.
But while the school district is doing more with less, taxpayers have been paying more — not necessarily in aggregate dollars but in higher tax rates. School district data show the millage rate has risen five out of the past six years, or 12% since 2007-08 — from 7.12 mills in 2007-08 to a proposed 7.97 mills.
Here’s one other data point worth noting: The Legislature is making Sarasota County residents carry a larger and larger share of the state-required funding for Florida’s public schools. To balance funding for all districts, some of Florida’s 67 counties are donor counties. Sarasota is one of those. As a result, the state has increased the required local millage rate for Sarasota County 27% since the 2007-08 school year.
Click here to see a breakdown of where your tax dollars go.
EXCERPTS: ON THE ZIMMERMAN-MARTIN FUROR
Black historian-author Shelby Steele and “O’Reilly Factor” host, Bill O’Reilly, published and broadcast their positions on the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin controversy July 21 in The Wall Street Journal and July 22 on O’Reilly’s Fox News talk show, respectively. If you missed them, look them up.
What follows are two excerpts from their commentaries:
“The civil-rights establishment’s mistake was to get ahead of itself, to be seduced by its own poetic truth even when there was no evidence to support it. And even now its leaders call for a Justice Department investigation, and they long for civil lawsuits to be filed—hoping against hope that some leaf of actual racial victimization will be turned over for all to see. This is how a once-great social movement looks when it becomes infested with obsolescence.
“One wants to scream at all those outraged at the Zimmerman verdict: Where is your outrage over the collapse of the black family? Today’s civil-rights leaders swat at mosquitoes like Zimmerman when they have gorillas on their back. Seventy-three percent of all black children are born without fathers married to their mothers. And you want to bring the nation to a standstill over George Zimmerman?
“There are vast career opportunities, money and political power to be gleaned from the specter of Mr. Zimmerman as a racial profiler/murderer; but there is only hard and selfless work to be done in tackling an illegitimacy rate that threatens to consign blacks to something like permanent inferiority. If there is anything good to be drawn from the Zimmerman/Martin tragedy, it is only the further revelation of the corruption and irrelevance of today’s civil-rights leadership.”
— Shelby Steele, July 21
“The sad truth is that from the President on down, our leadership has no clue, no clue at all about how to solve problems within the black community. And many are frightened to even broach the issue. That’s because race hustlers and the grievance industry have intimidated the so-called ‘conversation,’ turning any valid criticism of African-American culture into charges of racial bias.
“So many in power simply walk away leaving millions of law abiding African-Americans to pretty much fend for themselves in violent neighborhoods. You want racism? That’s racism.”
— Bill O’Reilly, July 22