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Manatee School Board proposes new allocations for referendum

The referendum, which is on the ballot in November, could include athletics, early childhood education, and school safety and security.

Myakka City Elementary School second grader Lydia Powell listens intently and follows along as second grade teacher Karen Washington reads aloud. Early childhood education is a priority for the School Board of Manatee County.
Myakka City Elementary School second grader Lydia Powell listens intently and follows along as second grade teacher Karen Washington reads aloud. Early childhood education is a priority for the School Board of Manatee County.
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With the School District of Manatee County’s 1-mill property tax referendum on the ballot in November, its board plans to incorporate some new uses for the funds. 

The board has determined the millage will continue to fund the recruitment and retention of teachers and staff, career and technical education, STEM education, visual and performing arts and charter schools. The millage also funds 30 minutes of additional instructional time for each school day. 

New to the referendum are allocations for school safety and security, early childhood education and athletics. 

The board was scheduled to vote on the ballot language with the new allocations during a board meeting March 19. 

The 2023-2024 adopted budget for the referendum amounts to nearly $69.3 million, of which $49.2 million is allocated for the recruitment and retention of teachers and staff. Specifically, instructional staff receive 51%, or a little more than $35.3 million, of the $69.3 million.

Board members said recruitment and retention remain a priority for the district. 

School safety and security as well as early childhood education also have been priorities of the school board, which is why board members chose to have it incorporated into the millage. 

Board members did not say what specific school safety and security measures they wanted to fund as they were discussed in a shade meeting, which are not open to the public to maintain the security of the district. 

In past board meetings, board members said they wanted to increase third grade reading levels and focus on early literacy. 

After a presentation from Sheila Halpin, the director of early learning education for the school district, at a board meeting Feb. 27, board members learned there is a waiting list of children wanting to participate in the district’s voluntary pre-K programs, but the district does not have the space or funding to accommodate more students. 

Board member Chad Choate advocated for athletics to be added to the millage. He said close to $5 million was spent on athletics among the district’s seven high schools, of which the district only provided $175,000. He said the remainder of the funding comes from boosters, ticket sales for games and school funds. Choate said just like visual and performing arts is funded in part by the district, athletics deserves the same.

“With athletics, transportation, some of the vital equipment, paying officials, that is something I believe as a district we should be helping with and not relying on the schools to fund,” he said.

Board member Gina Messenger and Mary Foreman were not in favor of adding athletics to the millage. They were concerned it would take away from other more education-focused allocations. 

Foreman said taxpayers will roll their eyes at seeing athletics being a part of the millage because athletics is a small number of students. 

Messenger said she thought it was unfair to have the funding divided among more programs that make an academic difference. She gave visual and performing arts as an example and said those programs have not yet had adequate time to accomplish the goals set in place when it was added to the referendum in 2021.  

“The arts have shown that it actually makes a graduation difference and an academic difference, and that is why I can get behind that,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s true about athletics. Maybe it does make those differences and then I feel like I could get behind that.”

Board member Cindy Spray said athletics is as important as, if not more important than, arts programs. The grade point average requirement to participate in athletics encourages students to do well academically, she said. In her opinion, visual and performing arts has received the funding it needs. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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