If approved, the referendum would continue a 1-mill property tax levy giving $56 million to the school district each year.
Voters are trickling into precincts across Sarasota County today to cast their ballot on the school tax referendum.
The decision to continue a supplemental 1-mill property tax to give funding to schools comes up once every four years in Sarasota. Since 2002, voters have approved the extra tax in order to fund things such as 30 extra minutes of class time each school day, art and music teacher positions and additional school staff.
“I was a teacher for 40 years, 25 of them here in Florida. I know the importance of it,” said Patricia Ward after voting in favor of the tax.
As of noon Tuesday, 8,500 people had voted on election day. That total, combined with early voting and vote-by-mail returns, put voter turnout at 16% so far.
Voter turnout for the school tax referendum has historically been low. In 2014, the turnout was only 17% — the lowest since the tax was first introduced.
“I just believe in (voting),” Ward said. “It’s so important and I know so few turn out.”
If passed, the referendum will grant $56 million in annual funding for Sarasota County Schools. It’s funding that largely pays for personnel at schools — teachers, guidance counselors, reading coaches and assistant principals all owe their jobs to that money.
“We’ve been seeing really good results, and the state doesn’t really give us enough money, so it’s a good thing to support the schools,” said Crystal Christner, who also voted in favor of the tax.
According to Sarasota County Schools, students who started in the district since the tax was first approved in 2002 will have received an additional full year of schooling by the time they graduate high school.
The referendum typically is passed by a wide margin. In 2014, it passed with 77% of the vote.
Although Tony Neubroch, a former census worker, voted in favor of the tax, he believes there’s a lack of equity in the amount of public funds made available to students based on where they live.
“I find it important that I do vote, but I think the system needs looking at so that nationally we have an equal and fair distribution of taxes to support our system of education,” he said.
Jackie Smith, a mother with a 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, voted in favor of the tax.
“It’s money going toward kids in school and education and supplies,” she said. “It’s important for kids’ education, for them to do well, to do better and learn in different ways.”
Hannah Warne, whose mother is an art teacher, came to vote because she expected the turnout to be low.
“If you have a child or sibling in school in Sarasota County, (voting) might benefit them,” she said.
The polls are open in Sarasota County until 7 p.m. Severe weather is expected to begin around 2 p.m., with a tornado watch already in effect, also until 7 p.m.
Rachel Denton, a spokesperson for the Supervisor of Elections office, said staff is monitoring the weather.
“We hope it doesn’t have an effect on people coming out to the polls,” Denton said.