This November, Manatee County voters will be asked to approve or deny the extension of Manatee County’s half-penny sales tax for education.
The purpose of this commentary is not to sway voters one way or the other, but instead is to give an accurate picture of education funding in Manatee County and, for comparison, Sarasota County, so that an informed decision can be made at the polls. The information contained herein comes directly from both school boards’ tentative budgets published last week and from the Florida Department of Education’s district and school grades released two weeks ago.
Let’s start with the big numbers. Manatee County’s proposes a budget of $608 million. Sarasota proposes a $730 million budget.
Where does this money come from? Much of it comes from local property taxes. In Manatee County, the total value of taxable property is just over $33 billion dollars. In Sarasota County, taxable property is valued at almost $55 billion dollars. Based on those valuations and current millage rates, Manatee schools will collect $175 million from property owners. Sarasota schools will collect $337 million.
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In addition, voters in Sarasota County have approved, and renewed the last three times they were asked, an extra 1 mill of property tax for schools. This additional mill equals $55 million dollars for Sarasota schools, which they use for operational funds, which can include teacher/staff pay raises.
Another funding stream for both counties is sales tax surcharges. Manatee County will collect $30 million from the existing half penny sales tax, which can only be used for capital projects. Sarasota County will collect $18.6 million from their quarter penny sales tax for the same purpose.
To complete the picture, we must also look at student demographics and school facilities. Manatee projects to have 47,890 students. Sarasota projects to have 43,492. Manatee has 63 schools, 25 of which are Title 1 — schools with high percentages of disadvantaged students. Sarasota has 50 schools, 12 of which are Title 1. Measured as total dollars per student, Manatee budgets for $12,701 per student. Sarasota budgets $16,803 per student.
Considering this data, it is easy to see how Sarasota County is consistently one of the top three schools districts in Florida. They have high property values and additional taxpayer-supported revenue streams to supplement their already successful public schools. This supplement allows them to pay teachers more, purchase cutting-edge classroom technology and stay current on school maintenance needs.
In short, Manatee County has more students, more Title 1 students, more employees and more buildings to maintain ... and less money.
Two weeks ago, school grades were released. Manatee County dropped to a C (although this could rise once two high schools are given their grades) and Sarasota is again one of the few A-rated districts in Florida. The conversation in the community began again about the differences between the school systems in the two counties. As you can see from the data, the gap in funding between the two is wide.
With the renewal of the half cent in Manatee County, that funding gap will remain the same. If the renewal were to fail, that gap would increase by $30 million per year. Opinions vary on the value of public education. I hope voters will use this information to make an informed decision, yes or no, on the extension of the half penny sales tax for public schools in Manatee County.
Charlie Kennedy, a former teacher at Manatee High School, is a member of the Manatee County School Board. He can be contacted at email@example.com.