The School Board of Manatee County voted 3-2 Tuesday to authorize a special election in March to vote on a one-mill property tax increase to provide more money to its school district.
Voting for the special referendum were school board members Dave Miner, Gina Messenger and Charlie Kennedy. Voting against were vice chairman John Colon and Scott Hopes.
During a passionate speech in favor of putting a pay raise for the district up to voters, Miner said Manatee County’s top teachers are getting their experience in Manatee then driving south to Sarasota County where salaries are higher.
A mill equates to one dollar per every $1,000 of property value. The first $25,000 is exempt. The average cost per homeowner in Manatee would be roughly $200 per year, and a one mill increase would give the district roughly $30 million, said district chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts.
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But the special election will cost the district roughly $270,000, Kennedy said.
“You don’t get to be the number one school district in the state by standing still,” Miner said.
Messenger was the vote that put the special election over the top. She had wavered on the issue over the past months, at one point saying she did not have faith that voters would approve the increase.
But on Monday she said, “I support what is best for kids. I have a 2-year-old in the school district. I want our highly qualified teachers to stay with us. I believe we must be competitive. I am for the referendum.”
Colon said having the special election in March when snowbirds were not in Manatee County was not right.
“If you truly want the county to vote on it, have the vote in November, when everyone is here,” Colon said.
There would be no cost to the district to put it on the ballot in November, Colon said.
Hopes said that the district hasn’t thoroughly looked into ways of trimming costs and that extra funds could be coming from the state legislature that would make the referendum unneccessary.
But Miner argued that those same extra funds might help Sarasota and surrounding counties increase their teacher salaries and that Manatee needed to step up boldly now to get in the game.
Most of Kinnan’s lawsuit dismissed
A judge has dismissed most of a lawsuit filed by former Manatee High School football coach and athletic director Joe Kinnan against the Manatee County School Board, the former superintendent and school district investigator.
Arguments were heard in court last month, as the school board, Mills and Pumphrey sought to dismiss the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, Senior Circuit Judge Lee Haworth issued his ruling dismissing most of the claims in a 15-page court order. The ruling was announced during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
“It was a tremendous result for the district. It narrows the claims,” school district attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum said after the meeting. “It dismissed matters with prejudice, meaning they will not be coming back against the district on significant claims.”
Kinnan, who won five state championships as Manatee’s football coach, and his wife, Linda Kinnan, filed their initial lawsuit in September 2016 with nine counts claiming slander, breach of contract and conspiracy and former superintendent Rick Mills and former investigator Troy Pumphrey. The lawsuit was dismissed in January.
In March, the Kinnans filed an amended complaint claiming that he had been targeted by the school board as bogus investigations were conducted and his reputation was smeared as rumors were spread about Kinnan’s involvement in the Roderick Frazier abuse scandal and baseball team scandal at Manatee High School. The lawsuit was seeking 15,000 for loss of consortium.
All the charges against the school board were dismissed except one count for negligence. In that claim, Kinnan claims that the school board breached due care owed him by failing to properly vet, train and supervise Pumphrey as well as negligently supervising retaining Mills. That count also alleges that the district violated policies, that misleading and false information about Kinnan was given to the Florida Department of Education and to the public.
Motion fails on charter litigation
The district voted 3-2 not to spend $6,000 to participate in the litigation challenging House Bill 7069 which forces public schools to share their capital funds with charter schools.
The School District of Manatee County could be required to share roughly $2.68 million from its taxpayer revenue with the 12 charter schools operating in the county next year, under the terms of a recently passed education reform bill, according to data from the Florida House.
Herald reporter Jessica De Leon contributed to this report.