Recently, the Manatee County school district received the report about the progress in the sales tax “promise” made to the taxpayers in 2002, when taxpayers voted to give the school district a half cent sales tax to be spent according to the “promise,” a three-page document that details where the district will spend this money.
At the very top, the district promised to “stop using portables as permanent classrooms.” This part of the promise has not been kept, but the committee chose to bury this fact in verbiage in the middle of the report.
According to a report supplied by the district, in spite of receiving to date $181 million, they only reduced the classroom portables by a total of two. Today, we have over 3,000 students still utilizing portable classrooms and we have over 7,000 empty student stations.
Another part of the “promise” was that it would be a “pay as you go” system. The average taxpayer would assume that the district would use the $20 million received each year to build. But the district borrowed the monies against the future receipts. So, the interest to be paid on these borrowings is approximately $20 million, or one year’s sales tax receipts.
The other outcome of this action is that of the $146 million to be received from 2012 to 2018, $111 million is obligated to pay off the debt. This means that there is only about $5 million per year to be spent on new schools in the future. This would indicate that no more portable classrooms will be eliminated.
The school district has chosen to spend $23 million of the sales tax monies on technology even though this was not listed in the “promise.” The district maintains that it was in the ballot “language” and is statutorily available to them.