Scott Hopes was on the losing side when the Manatee County School Board voted 3-2 earlier this year to request voters approve a 1 mill increase in school property taxes.
His position takes on added significance after his colleagues Tuesday voted unanimously to make him the new board chairman, as the district prepares to make its case to Manatee County voters.
Will Hopes be willing to promote the measure, which would generate an extra $33 million for the district, in the community?
Hopes said Wednesday that although he is now “100 percent” in favor of the proposal, which will be on a special election ballot March 20, he also knows the results of a poll of Manatee County voters on the tax hike issue that Manatee homebuilder Pat Neal paid for in October.
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The poll of 300 registered voters showed that Manatee voters are currently about 50-50 on the tax increase proposal, which is not a favorable result for the district, Neal said Wednesday.
“It should be at least 60 percent to go forward,” said Neal who said he was asked by “a school board consultant” to do the poll, whose cost he declined to reveal.
Neal, who supports raising school taxes, has now changed his own mind and believes the district would do better waiting till the November 2018 to ask voters for the tax hike. That’s when more voters who actually have kids in school usually vote, Neal said.
“When we reviewed the results they were definitely in favor of an election that isn’t in March,” he said.
Neal said the poll results showed that people who vote in special elections in March tend to be older, with no children in school, more conservative and Republican, all of whom might tend to vote against a school tax increase.
“People with children don’t vote as much in special elections,” Neal said.
If the district chooses to postpone the election to November, “there is a broader cross section of voters,” including more Democrats and liberals, Neal said.
The school board voted to have the election in March partially because the proceeds from a higher tax rate, if approved, would be available sooner but also because it felt having fewer voters would help them, which the Neal poll seems to contradict.
Hopes is a ‘yes’ for now
On Wednesday morning, Hopes said he currently supports the tax hike proposal.
“Right now we are pulling out all the stops and the entire team will hit the road and go out with the voters and make our case,” Hopes said.
During their discussions over the past months, school board members said they felt that the roughly 6,800 full and part time employees in the district, their families and their extended families would hit the polls hard in March and that would be enough to push the election over the top for the district.
Hopes said he also thinks his proposal to create a citizens finance committee would improve the district’s chances of winning the election.
“We have made the commitment,” Hopes said. “The board has moved forward. We are unanimous.”
We have a special task in education in Manatee. We have a student population much different from others. We have 36 percent of our children for whom English is a second language. Our children must be supported. I would like them to delay the election until they are sure they will win.
Pat Neal, Manatee County home builder
Neal said Wednesday that he agreed to pay for the poll because he wants the referendum to pass so that Manatee’s improved schools will not only improve his home sales but also help improve education.
“We have a special task in education in Manatee,” Neal said. “We have a student population much different from others. We have 36 percent of our children for whom English is a second language. Our children must be supported. I would like them to delay the election until they are sure they will win.”