The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.
By Eileen Rowe
Passing a new tax is like taming a mad bull. First you muster courage and approach the beast. You talk him into calming down and, if successful, you lead him into a pasture, where the bull ends up in clover, and you get happy cows.The Vice Chair of the St. Johns School Board Patrick Canan is in the second stage as he lobbies for a half cent sales tax for county schools.
At the St. Johns County League of Women Voters meeting on October 8, Canan said a skyrocketing school student population and drastic cuts in state funding necessitated his onerous task."No one wants to pay more taxes, but we need enough funds to do what's right for the kids." he said.
In the past decade, the school population has gained 10,470 new students, and another 16,000 are expected in the coming ten years. Yet money for public education has dropped. The state's Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds were redirected to Charter Schools, taking a big chunk out of public school budgets. They were originally earmarked for public school construction and maintenance. "We need a new school every year, and we're now two schools behind", said the father of two SAHS grads and a currently enrolled student. Since 2008, the money per child has continually dropped. That translates to no new schools.
Adding pressure, many families who work in Jacksonville have moved into the county to educate their children in the highly ranked St. Johns School System. The practice has made it the fastest growing system in the state.
Now many kids are housed in portable buildings and face more bussing. The portables are rented, which Canan said is "money thrown away." And if the referendum fails to pass on November 3, the system will be forced to take out loans.If passed, it would add an estimated $70 to the budget of a family of four, but it would bring a much needed $13 million to the system next year, he said.
Many voters don't realize the tax is limited to the first $5000 of the cost of any item. That translates to a cap of $25 extra on the price of the most expensive luxury car or yacht.It automatically expires after ten years, and over 30 percent will come from tourist spending.
Addressing the fear that the money would be swallowed up by bureaucracy, Canan assured the League that 94% of the budget goes directly to the schools and the kids. "We're not top heavy."
The LWV meets every second Thursday of the month at 10 am at the St. Augustine Beach City Hall.
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