It’s impossible for School District of Manatee County officials to cram everything they would like to include on the ballots that Manatee voters will see during an upcoming special election, which has the potential to generate an additional $33 million for local schools.
If they could, school officials might want to insert the funding allocation proposal Superintendent Diana Greene plans to unveil at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, which shows exactly how the district would spend the $33 million if voters pass the additional 1-mill of ad valorem property tax next March.
The new ballot question is a vast improvement and will let people know when they go to vote exactly how the money will be used.
School board chairman Charlie Kennedy on the special election in March
In that allocation proposal, Greene suggests an increase to the salaries of Manatee teachers who are members of the Manatee Education Association union by an average of $5,842 per year; an increase in the salaries of MEA para-professional, or teacher aides, by $2,400 annually; and a raise for bus drivers and other members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of 8 percent, according to the funding plan document.
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Overall, Greene’s plans calls for 51 percent of the $33 million going to teachers.
Of course, there’s not enough space on the ballot for all that specific information from the allocation sheet.
But at Tuesday’s 3 p.m. workshop in board chambers, school board members will discuss at least revising the ballot language to specify to voters more clearly where the money will go.
The original ballot language, which was announced in September, simply stated, “Shall the Manatee County School District ad valorem millage increase by one mill per year beginning July 1, 2018 and ending June 30, 2022 for operating expenses to improve the quality of Manatee County school system.”
The new ballot language proposal, which the board is expected to discuss and perhaps approve Tuesday, states, “Shall the School District of Manatee County operating ad valorem millage increase by one mill per year, beginning July 1, 2018 and ending June 20, 2022, to increase student achievement through more instructional time, after-school tutoring, to recruit and retain teachers and staff with competitive salaries, expand Career and Technical Education and STEM programs and to support charter schools.”
“The new ballot question is a vast improvement and will let people know when they go to vote exactly how the money will be used,” school board chairman Charlie Kennedy told the Herald on Monday.
Kennedy was also pleased that the new ballot question includes increasing the length of the school day, which he feels is one of the most important parts of how the $33 million would be spent.
“For a student who has an extra half-hour a day, that adds up to an additional year of school over their entire kindergarten through 12th grade career,” Kennedy noted.
The boost for teachers would help Manatee recover from some pay decreases, which has led to a gap between Manatee and nearby districts.
Kennedy has said there are 40 teacher openings in the school district, and many veteran teachers have gone to work in neighboring counties like Sarasota or Pinellas because they have more competitive salaries.
The gap started when the Manatee school district chose to cut employee salary schedules in 2008 by 1 percent, then again by 2.75 percent in 2011, Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, recently told the Herald.
“So that was the start of how we started losing ground on other districts,” Barber said. “It’s very complicated to come back (from that).”