Although the School District of Manatee County’s 1-mill property tax referendum passed with 69% of the vote Nov. 2, school board members already are looking to the future.
A main reason people opposed the additional millage was because 51%, or nearly $23.3 million, of the funds go toward teacher salaries, which some voters said should be a part of the district’s operating budget and not dependent on a vote.
Mary Foreman, a member of the Manatee County School Board, said she is thrilled so many people in the county supported the referendum and the district’s teachers, staff and students, but she believes there still is work to be done.
“I do still believe that we need to work toward not relying on the referendum for salaries,” Foreman said. “That can’t be done in one shot. That’s what I learned in the first year (on the board). I have attempted to convince my colleagues on the board, and I think there’s a desire now to, especially after listening to people during the election, start working toward that.”
School board Chair Charlie Kennedy said the board and district are going to forecast moving $3 million to $4 million of referendum funds for salaries into the general budget for fiscal year 2023, which is Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023.
“When we have to go for the next renewal, we can say to the voters, ‘Hey, look, we have tried to move part of this into the general budget,’” Kennedy said. “We’re trying, but it is just mathematically impossible to move the whole thing to the existing operations.”
This year’s general budget is $526.5 million, and 66%, $347.6 million, goes toward salaries and benefits. Other large expenditures include $67.9 million for charter schools and nearly $15.9 million in utilities.
The district is expected to collect almost $45.7 million in fiscal year 2022 from the referendum. Teachers receive a supplement of $5,410 from the additional millage this year.
Kennedy said the $3 million to $4 million is just for the fiscal 2023 budget, and if and how much the district would move from the referendum to the general budget in the future is dependent on the Florida Legislature.
“Nobody wants to tie employees’ pay to a temporary tax, but since we’re not getting it from the Legislature, we have to go to the voters,” Kennedy said. “Every year we start over. We never know what we’re going to get from the Legislature. We don’t have $45 million to find in the operating budget. Finding $3 million to $4 million is a start, but if the Legislature never increases funding, there’s only so much we can potentially do.”
Board member James Golden said he would like to see all teacher salaries moved to the operating budget, but it’s dependent on state funding.
“We have a public education system in the state, and every county suffers from the lack of sufficient funding in public education,” Golden said. “All of the machinations at the state level as to how we want to avoid fully funding public education have to stop.”
Foreman said the state’s restrictions on how the district can use certain funds makes it harder for the district to be able to pay competitive salaries without using funds from the additional millage.
“The restrictions the state puts on what we can use the money for gives us very little of the whole budget that we’re using for salaries,” Foreman said. “We still have to keep the schools operating. We still have to keep the lights on and the water going, property insurance. There are a lot of expenditures that are necessary to keep the schools operating, and there simply isn’t enough money to pay those and pay competitive wages to our employees.”
Foreman would like to see $5 million of referendum funds moved to the operating budget each year.
“I think that’s pretty optimistic, but we’ll see,” Foreman said. “We don’t know what we’re working with until budget time.”