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After a month of bouncing the date of the 1-millage property tax vote back and forth between the Manatee Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the School Board, the BOCC ultimately voted in favor of calling the special election. The BOCC had a very limited role or authority regarding the election and risked a potential lawsuit for denying the School Board their right to place the subject in front of voters. During the May 11 BOCC meeting, the item of calling the election by the BOCC was deferred to a later date and the BOCC decided to write a letter to the School Board requesting to change the date of the Special Election from November 2021 to the primary or general elections in 2022. The School Board countered by decreasing the effective period of the millage from 4 years to 3, so the vote will appear in future presidential elections and not be held in a special election again. 

During the meeting, Commissioner George Kruse stated “The 1-millage property tax vote should have been placed on the 2020 ballot and this entire situation could have been avoided.” All the Commissioners were in agreeance that the School Board demonstrated good faith by amending the years on the original resolution. Kruse expressed concern that the School Board is “setting a budget to match a millage and not a millage to match a budget”. Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge took a strong stance against holding a special election but believed the compromise to be fair. 

One of the many components to be funded with the possible passing of the 1-millage property tax is an increase in teacher salaries. Van Ostenbridge and Kruse both shared concerns about tethering teacher salary increases to an unstable source.  Van Ostnebridge said, “I don’t agree with tying employees’ salaries to a nonrecurring funding source.  It’s reckless and disrespectful.”  Kruse stated, “They (teachers) are number one asset of the school and their salary should not be tied to this.”  Commissioner Vanessa Baugh also urged the School Board to place teacher salaries into their main budget.  Commissioner James Satcher respectfully forewarned about the possible outcome of the special election that “the School Board may have the BOCC votes but that does not mean they (School Board) have the support of voters.” 

County Attorney Clague made it a point to remind the public that the role of the board on this topic is very limited.  This vote is just approving the date of the special election for the referendum.  He added that “all other issues should be addressed to the school board directly.”

Many citizens took the opportunity to speak on their frustrations about the School Board and the 1-millage property tax. Some concerns were the millage being used for mortgages and leases-not just teacher salaries, disappointment that the School Board would jeopardize teacher salaries and suppress voters, not addressing what could happen in the future if the 1-millage property tax fails in this special election, and the extremely low turn out of the School Board’s special election in March 2018. 

School Board Member Charlie Kennedy provided a brief history of how the Manatee School Board was following Sarasota’s School Board lead creating a more competitive teacher’s salary. He believes the opportunity for the School Board and BOCC to make a compromise on changing the resolution for the vote to fall on future presidential general elections will most likely mean Sarasota’s School Board to follow Manatee’s lead. 

Superintendent Cynthia Saunders clarified the special election in March 2018 on the 1-millage property tax vote was funded by PACs and community members – not by taxpayers. The special election in November 2021 will also be funded by community members, PACs, and the School’s Extended Day Enrichment program, which is fee-based and paid by parents for afterschool childcare.  Saunders added that she “heard the message loud and clear” but couldn’t adjust completely due to the expiration of the current millage.  She was glad they could make the adjustment going forward.  

You can watch the video coverage here of the discussion at the BOCC meeting.  Just click play to view where this topic began.

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By Amy Beck

Amy N. Beck is a freelance reporter. She graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor’s with a focus of Public Administration. Her experience includes a decade long career in local government. Amy was born in Bowie, Maryland. She is married and has 3 boys. She moved to Florida in 1995 and has been a resident of Myakka City for the last 6 years. Amy has volunteered on many election campaigns and is currently serving her second term as the Secretary of the Manatee County Young Republicans.

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