Sunday, February 13, 2022

School Boards and Your Property Taxes… It’s Time to Watch Out


WEST COAST        
Opinion by:  
E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin  

It is that time of the year again when school systems administrators and County School Boards began their annual quest to increase property taxes and provide more revenue for local public schools.

Tampa Bay Times by Marlene Sokol: Hillsborough schools are in a $60M hole. They might ask for a tax increase.

This year you can expect those pleadings to include various woes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

You will also hear complaints that facilities are in a major state of disrepair, that unions are demanding more money for teachers all of this coupled with veiled threats to reduce funding for special needs students and other significantly important school programs.

Rarely will you hear proposals to reduce the amount of money spent on public school sports and sports venues; arts programs and other non-STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) related educational programs.

All of this is certainly very much a political process and school administrators around the United States and Florida particularly, have become more politically savvy in how to go about convincing the public to agree to tax themselves further.

All of this deserves some scrutiny both by County Commissions, who must approve any property tax referendum and by the public in general.

To become a part of the School Board budget process you must first get a copy of your school board's budget and see if particular schools’ budgets are available to you. They should be.

However, it's not uncommon for school system administrators to attempt to hide individual school budgets deeply down in the paperwork so that it's very hard for you to get a look at your child’s high school budget. Take some time to do some digging, and you'll find it.

As you're thinking about and perhaps even looking at your County School Board's request for either a new property tax or a property tax millage increase, here are some things you may want to consider.

  • If the high school football coach, is the highest paid staff member teaching or otherwise, then you have a reason to voice a concern.
  • If your high school budgets more money to pay for the upkeep of the football field or for all the athletic fields, than they spend on any other type of maintenance at the school, you need to ask some questions.
  • If you're high school or middle school combined sports budget is one of the largest budget items, it may be time for some changes.
  • If your school district Superintendent’s salary is more than twice that of the highest paid school principal in the system, some adjustments may be necessary.
  • Arts programs are significantly valuable to a certain segment of a school systems student population. However, they tend to be expensive and often due to parent pressure acquire large and expensive facilities. If your school has what seems to be an excessive expenditure for arts programs a review should be conducted.

Spending just a little time with your school district budget and particularly with specific high schools, middle schools, and elementary school's budgets you should be able to get a good idea of where the money is going.

For decades now, school systems in Florida and around the country have taken the “Let's add some more on” approach to budgeting. In the last few years, there have been some significant attempts to rein in public school budgets and school programs. Still the easiest way for a school superintendent to get along with his teachers, his students and the politicians is to just see if he can't get them to give a little more money, so he doesn't have to cut anything and cause a public upheaval.

Just handing your school board another way to tax you and get more money into their coffers is not going to solve the problems you see on the news about the school system. It's unlikely to make them better. It's unlikely to improve the product that they are providing to their students and the educational competency of the students whom they graduate.

Budget time is just a good time for school systems to do what every other business, and most governments do and that's take a serious look at where they're spending their money, what they're spending it for, and how effective those services really are.

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