Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

‘Yes’ on the two referenda

Sarasota County voters have shown since 2002 that they’ll support good schools with their money. Expect that again March 8. Meanwhile, voters should go back to countywide voting for commission seats.

  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
  • Share

Oh, is it that time again?

Yep. It’s time for that every four-year ritual when Sarasota County voters go to the polls to decide whether to renew the 1-mill property tax dedicated to the county’s public schools.

And what’s this: Sarasota County voters will be voting again on whether to have single-member districts for the County Commission. Wasn’t that decided four years ago?

It was. Then why again? Politics.

So it goes.

Come March 8, Sarasota County voters will go to the polls to decide these two issues once again.

Too bad the votes will be in March and not November. Expect a low turnout, which means the groups with the most at stake — e.g., parents with school-age children and teachers, and the Democratic Party of Sarasota County (more on the latter later) — will be most motivated to vote and have a good chance of determining the outcomes.

With mail-in voting underway and early voting starting Feb. 26, here are the Observer’s recommendations:


School District Millage

Perhaps it is apropos this vote is in March — March Madness college basketball month. Come March 8,  just as has occurred every four years since 2002, the outcome most likely will be, well, a slam dunk — in favor of renewal.

Now, there always is a contingent of voters who will oppose any tax, and we get it.

We all understand there is a cost to having a democratic republic, and that it makes sense to pool taxpayer dollars for certain services — e.g., the courts, national defense, protection from criminals, (some) roads, to name a few. But we have often made the argument that a private-sector alternative to the education of our youth could be — and probably would be — better than state-controlled education.

Just look at the mess we have in state-controlled education. Especially during the past two years, it became crystal clear that teacher unions put themselves ahead of their customers and bosses (children and taxpayers). What’s more, the pandemic helped parents see what really has been going on in many of the classrooms (e.g., CRT brainwashing).

Overlay on all that how state legislators — Republicans and Democrats alike — go along with layers of regulations that interfere with teaching, that protect lousy teachers and prohibit innovation.

It’s enough to make you not want to support your local public schools.

Of course, that would be heresy, especially in Sarasota County. Ever since the initial adoption of the 1-mill tax for schools in 2002, Sarasota County taxpayers decisively have supported — and still support — this tax.

(Reminder to readers, especially newcomers: It’s not a new tax; it’s a vote to renew it and keep it going.)

Why the support? Perhaps the best way to answer that is voters have been satisfied with the results. Sarasota County and St. Johns County school districts are the only two districts that have achieved the Florida Department of Education’s “A” grading every year since grading began in 2004.

Renewing the voter-approved referendum will not increase taxes. The 1 mill has been in place since 2002.

Renewing this tax, then, is Sarasota taxpayers sending two messages: 1) that they put a high value on quality education, and 2) they expect their schools to remain among the state’s best.

We are never fans of handing over private property (your hard-earned income) to the state. But you can make the case over the past 20 years, vis-à-vis other districts and other states’ schools, that the return on this investment has been worthwhile.

When voters approve the extension of this property tax for another four years, the pressure will shift to the school board, school administration and teachers — to keep that record of straight “A’s” for another four years.

We recommend: Vote yes


Single-Member vs. Countywide Districts

If you go back to 2018, it seems Sarasota County was emphatic about its preference for the type of voting districts it wants for the Sarasota County Commission.

In the November election that year, 60% of those voting favored converting to single-member County Commission districts.

On a surface level, you can see how most voters — Democrats, Republicans or NPAs (independents)– can think single-member districts would be good.

For one, they allow voters to be able to know to whom specifically they should gripe if they’re not happy. You know that line when people are referring to their district or region’s representative: “So-and-so is an SOB all right, but he/she is our SOB!”

It’s true: Voters can have much more of personal relationship with one county commissioner than with all five of them.

Likewise, advocates for single-member districts often argue they give minorities a better chance of being elected — assuming the district boundaries are drawn to help that outcome. In addition, there is the argument that single-member districts make it easier for more people to run for office because it’s less expensive to campaign in one district than countywide.

In 2018, the Democratic Party of Sarasota saw this issue as an opening to break the Republican Party’s dominance of the five County Commission seats. With some redrawing of districts here and there, Democratic Party candidates actually might be able to win a seat or two.

That didn’t happen, of course. Likewise, we would bet that if you asked the average Sarasota County voter if he or she knows his/her county commissioner, much less developed a relationship that he/she did not have before, the answer most likely is “no.”

Try this: Do any of you know who your Sarasota County district commissioner is? Ha!

We argued against single-member districts in 2018 primarily because they foster bad and corrupt government — more so than  when voters have the opportunity to cast a vote for all five county commissioners.

At that time, we said: “To understand how single-member districts are a bad idea all you need to do is look at the U.S. House of Representatives — representing the special interests of their districts, not the best interests of the nation.”

What’s more, with single-member districts, commissioners who want to be re-elected just need to vote and make decisions to keep their district’s constituents happy. It doesn’t matter if the Venice-area commissioner votes for or against issues that adversely affect north Sarasota County voters.

Single-member districts also foster behind-the-scenes dealmaking and dirty politics — e.g., “I’ll vote for your bridge if you vote for my road.” Voters disdain that kind of sleazy politics.

To be sure, neither type of districting is ideal. Each has its advantages and disadvantages (see box). But when we think of which system is better, the Longboat Key Town Commission is a microcosm of how good government can and should work.

Longboat has seven commissioners — five from districts, two at-large commissioners. All Longboat Key voters vote for all commissioners.

This system has proven beneficial over and over again. When commissioners vote on policy decisions, they vote for what’s best for all Longboat Key residents and Longboat Key. They have the big picture in mind, not just the interests of the residents in their districts. We would argue, as a result, that Longboat Key is one of the best-governed and best-managed municipalities in Florida.

The current system of voters voting on all commission candidates assures taxpayers that commissioners are motivated to make decisions that are good for the many, not just the few.

We recommend: Vote yes




Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

Latest News