An election will be held Tuesday, March 16 that includes a referendum to allow the Sarasota County School District to continue a 1-mill levy to support public education.
The millage is not a new tax, but a continuation of existing millage originally approved in 2002 and renewed in 2006. The 2010 renewal will authorize the district to continue the millage already in place and to fund the operating expenses necessary to maintain academic programs and teaching positions in the Sarasota County public school system. If the millage is opposed, the district will lose a projected $38 million next year.
With the addition of the tax, the district says it has been able to preserve music-and-arts programs, lengthen the school day by 30 minutes, recruit and retain teachers, provide career advisers and enhance other services that improve student achievement.
“We’re looking at a projection of $38 million,” said Superintendent of Schools Lori White, during the Jan. 25 discussion, held at the Community Foundation of Sarasota. “We have reduced the budget by $70 million (over the past two years) and are feeling the tightening of the belt.”
Economic conditions within the last two years have also forced the district to eliminate 500 staff positions.
But even if the millage is renewed, the district will still face budget cuts because of reduced property values in Sarasota County and shortfalls in state revenue.
“The average person will spend $141 per year,” said proponent Jane Goodwin, of Citizens for Better Schools. “E.D.U. equals J.O.B.S. For every person who loses a job, it impacts six people.”
Opposing the tax were Rod Thomson, executive editor of the Gulf Coast Business Review, and Walt Augustinowicz, of Identity Stronghold.
Reading from documents provided by the district, Augustinowicz noted that in 2008-2009, the district’s actual expenditures totaled more than $574 million. This year, the projected spending is estimated at more than $783 million. The numbers include both the operating and capital budgets for the district. In addition, the district moved some big-ticket capital projects from last year to this year.
“Forty-three individuals alone got over $500,000 of that in their pockets,” Augustinowicz said. “I love my kids and want them to do well, but we have to be realistic.”
The deadline to register to vote in the March 16 election is Feb. 16. Visit www.sarasotavotes.com for more information.
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