Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Tax Goes to Voters

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

School Tax Goes to Voters

Article excerpt

REFERENDUM: District officials say extra funding helps keep cuts at bay

SARASOTA

Voters can expect to go to the polls in March to decide whether to renew a property tax that school officials say is critical to running the district.

At a Tuesday workshop, the board agreed to set March 4 as the date to hold a special election to renew the 1-mill, four-year tax for the third time. The referendum sunsets June 30, 2014.

Officials say the referendum is important for maintaining Sarasota County schools, a district rated 'A,' that employs some of the highest-paid teachers in the state and has maintained the arts at a time when many districts are cutting.

This school year, the district planned to spend the money on a laundry list of items, including $8.7 million on music and art teachers, $3.35 million on guidance counselors/behavior specialists and $10.1 million to add an extra 30 minutes onto the school day, according to a 2013-14 budget update.

"It's critical," Superintendent Lori White said after the board's discussion Tuesday. "It's really helped us to buffer through some difficult economic years."

The extra tax adds $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value and generates roughly $40 million annually for school operations.

If it failed, the district cabinet would meet to determine where to make cuts, said Scott Lempe, the chief operating officer for the Sarasota school system.

"It would be catastrophic," Lempe said.

Layoffs would be inevitable because salaries and benefits are among the district's highest costs, he said. In the 2012-13 year, for instance, the district budgeted $226 million on salaries and $61 million on benefits. The referendum alone funds nearly 500 positions, Lempe said.

In Manatee County, voters in 2010 defeated a 0.25 mill tax that district officials said was needed to maintain teacher salaries and pay for electives classes like art and music. …

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