Ricardo Robinson-Shinall, the theater director and dance teacher at Braden River High School, thought about all the new opportunities his students could have next year.
They could put on higher caliber productions. He could take his students to more festivals and conventions without his students having to pay as much to cover field trip costs.
But only if the School District of Manatee County would continue to collect an extra 1 mill in property taxes.
That came to fruition Nov. 2 as Manatee County voters renewed the district’s 1-mill ad valorem property tax referendum in a special election with 69.27% of the vote. This election, 68,267 Manatee County residents voted compared to the 56,341 residents who voted in the 2018 special election to initially approve the referendum.
“It’s a landslide y’all,” said Charlie Kennedy, chair of the School Board of Manatee County, to dozens of school district officials when the results of the election were posted. “This is such a great night for our kids and our teachers. There was a lot of angry and loud debate during this campaign, but in the end, when we see the results, Manatee County in a bipartisan manner came out en force. In a very big way. We said we support our teachers, and we support our schools.”
Robinson-Shinall could celebrate.
“It’s going to give us the opportunity as educators to provide a lot more programs and things for our students that we haven’t been able to provide in years past,” he said.
The money from the 1-mill property tax will provide a boost for teacher and staff salaries, will continue to provide 30 additional minutes of instructional time daily, will enhance STEM, career and technical education, will enhance visual and performing arts programs, and will send additional funds to student services and charter schools.
The district is estimating it will receive almost $45.7 million from the referendum in 2021-2022.
“I always believed this community was behind us 110% and it shows,” said Cynthia Saunders, superintendent of the school district. “That probably does my heart the most good. I feel the most joy from that after all that we’ve been through the past two years. Through the pandemic, our teachers showed up, our schools were open and this community said, ‘Thank you.’
“We thank them for supporting us.”
River Club’s Sy Inwentarz and his wife, Cecelia Inwentarz, voted in favor of the referendum to support teachers.
Sy Inwentarz said the school district has wonderful teachers, and in order to retain those teachers, the district needs teacher salaries to remain competitive.
Teachers will continue to receive an annual supplement of at least $5,000 from revenue from the referendum.
“We have to keep up with the competition and keep Manatee County as desirable to families as possible,” Sy Inwentarz said. “It’s important to keep good teachers that are focused on the core disciplines in our county.”
Opponents of the referendum have said the district has not been prioritizing teachers by making a portion of their salaries dependent on a tax that needs to be approved by voters every few years.
Bradenton’s Garin Hoover said he voted against the referendum because “it was the right thing to do.”
“We all want quality education in Manatee County,” Hoover said. “I call on the district to show teachers that it truly values them by making all of their pay permanent so they do not have to campaign for a portion of their pay in the future.”
James Golden, school board member representing Lakewood Ranch said, “I am glad we were able to present enough of a case to seven out of 10 voters to continue the millage.”