The MCTA generally hosts a guest speaker at our monthly board meetings. The following is from retiring school board member, Tina McSoley who was our guest in April. Her views and statements are for informational purposes and in no way reflect the opinions of the MCTA.
As Martin County School Board votes to place not one, but two taxes on the ballot this year, one wonders whether this money is necessary to continue as a top performing school district in the state. My answer: Mandates.
The first tax, a millage increase, requests a .5 mill increase in property taxes. This tax, which will expire in four years, will be used for operating costs. This money will be earmarked for SRO officers, recruitment and retention of high performing, qualified teachers and mental health programs. It will have an approximately $11.00/month impact to the average homeowner in Martin County.
The second, a sales tax, will provide for capital needs. The board has requested this tax be last seven years which will allow us to complete the back log of capital projects, listed clearly in our Capital Improvement Plan, and rebuild Jensen Beach Elementary and Palm City Elementary. This tax will be spread out among anyone who purchases goods or services in Martin County.
When the state mandated twenty additional minutes of recess, the board made the difficult decision to take that time from science instead of adding 20 minutes to the school day. Why? The cost to add that additional time was estimated to be 1.2 million dollars.
Current textbook per child allocations are around $80.62. This categorical covers all hard copy books, copies, online resources and any other related curriculum supply. Considering one textbook for a high school student costs $85, it isn’t difficult to understand why the district has had to delay adoption and purchase of materials due to lack of available funds.
This year, as a result of the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the state mandated armed staff at each school site. While they allocated Martin County’s share of $90 million dollars, approximately $540,000, to this new mandate, the district’s cost to add School Resource Officers soars from $240,000 to 2.7 million dollars.
Many people throughout our community are aware of the transportation costs. The district currently provides $2 million dollars more per year in transportation costs than is funded by the state. Statutes limit funding that can go to student transportation and any changes we deem necessary locally must come from the General Fund.
The district’s five year Capital Plan shows a $90 million dollar budget deficit and still doesn’t allow for rebuilding two new schools that desperately need to be completed. That cost would add an additional $64 million dollars to the already backlogged capital projects. Since the district only receive roughly $30 million dollars a year for capital projects, it is virtually impossible to see a time when the facility needs at any school will be met.
Imagine you are carrying a lunch box and inside that lunchbox are baggies of different sizes and amounts. The lunch box also contains some loose change. The baggies hold money that must go to a specific area of the district, called categoricals. Some are larger and some are smaller but they cannot be spent anywhere but in the area they are marked for. The remaining money can be spent to supplement the categoricals that don’t quite have enough money to meet the district’s needs. It can also be used for staff salaries and benefits. We are currently working with a budget that is approximately the same size it was in 2008, going down each year after that, and then slowly rising to get us to our current levels. With 83% of our General Fund dollars going toward staff salary and benefits, and a heated competition for qualified staff with nearby districts, it has become very difficult to keep up with mandates, student needs and rising costs, while continuing to retain the quality of education our students and community deserve.
Martin County is a property rich district which makes us responsible for funding a larger portion of education in our county than most other counties. A 47 cent increase in the Base Student Allocation this year is yet another allocation that doesn’t keep up with inflation and the rising costs associated with running a top performing district.
Martin County School District is preparing a clear education program that lays out the needs and challenges that brought the School Board to this point. These materials will be available to Martin County residents in the near future. Other questions can be directed to Tina McSoley at firstname.lastname@example.org or other district staff.