Voters will decide by March 20 whether to renew the school tax referendum, which provides $56 million in extra funding to Sarasota County Schools.
With a special election this month on Sarasota County School’s voter-approved supplemental property tax, school officials say the district’s A-rating is on the line.
The 1-mill referendum, which costs voters $1 for every $1,000 of taxable assessed value on a home, generates $56 million that wouldn’t be available through the school district’s normal tax collection.
It’s money that the school district says allows for 30 extra minutes of instruction each day (equal to 18 full additional school days a year), as well as its music and art teachers.
“There’s a total of 580 positions funded through the referendum, and it represents 13% of our revenue,” said SCS Chief Financial Officer Mitsi Corcoran. “We truly believe this additional revenue stream is what’s allowed us to be an ‘A’ district every year.”
The tax is up for renewal for the fifth time since it was implemented in 2002. If voters don’t approve it again, Corcoran said it would be a problem for the district.
To lose the millions in funding would mean restructuring: looking at the ratio of students to guidance counselors, looking at music and art education and cutting back on the extra instructional time.
“There would be a lot of scrambling if it didn’t pass. It funds so many enhanced opportunities.”
For her part, School Board Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler is hopeful the referendum will pass, and wants to encourage people to get out and vote.
“I think the biggest thing, in my opinion and it’s consistent across the board — we want people to be aware of when the election is and the value it brings,” she said.
District officials debate each year over the benefits, and drawbacks, of presenting the referendum in a special election. Each year, the School Board has decided the benefits of having an election to focus specifically on this issue is more important than the low voter turnout and the cost to host it — typically around $400,000, a cost similar to what it takes to fund middle school career advisors across the district.
In 2014, the most recent election, voter turnout was just 17%.
Still the referendum funds hundreds of instructors and employees throughout the district.
“We’re a people business,” Corcoran said. “We don’t make widgets, we help shape the future.”
Early voting starts March 10 and extends through March 17. Voters can go to the Sarasota Elections Office, 101 S. Washington Blvd., or Longboat Key Town Hall between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Election Day is March 20.
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