Last night the school board voted AGAINST asking the County Commissioners to place a resolution on the August ballot to add an additional one mill of ad valorem millage tax to be used for school safety and operating expenses. The additional mill would cost the average Clay County property owner approximately $100 per year. Per YEAR. That’s $8.33 per month. The increase would bring in approximately $10 million for our public schools - money that is desperately needed in many areas.
The County Commissioners have insisted that the additional mill should only cover school safety. While they made it very clear last month that it is not their job to provide for the safety of our students, they seem to think it is their job to weigh in on how we choose to spend money.
We continue to send lawmakers to Tallahassee who pass down unfunded mandates with one hand and give away our tax dollars to private and for-profit charter schools through voucher schemes with the other hand. Our public schools cannot survive on the money being begrudgingly handed down from Tallahassee - money WE sent them in the form of sales and other taxes. We must raise additional money locally if we are going to provide our children with a first class education.
Several school board members expressed concern over the wording of the resolution. They said that the phrase “to enhance the safety and security of students and staff, and provide for necessary operating expenses of the School District” would confuse voters. They said they felt like they would be pulling a bait and switch on the property owners of Clay County by not spending all of the money on safety.
I have more faith in the people of Clay County. Our school system taught them how to read. “And provide for necessary operating expenses” seems pretty clear to me. We are in the business of educating people. I’m pretty confident that we could have spent the next few months explaining to the citizens of this county why this additional revenue is so critical to the operation of our school district.
While safety is extremely important, the addition of one SRO or other security personnel at each school site is not going to solve the problem. If the state truly believed it would, they would have funded the mandate. Anything less than that is just window-dressing. Surely they want to keep our children safe, right?
According to internet legend, when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort, he replied “Then what are we fighting for?” While there is no evidence that he ever actually uttered those words, the sentiment behind it rings true for many of us in education.
If we limit ourselves to only spending additional revenue on safety, then I must ask: What are we educating them for?