On Tuesday afternoon, Manatee County Supervisor of Elections and former Senator Michael Bennett was invited by the School Board of Manatee County to a workshop to discuss just how much Bennett was going to charge the district for having a special election.
From the get-go Tuesday, Bennett was gritty, unvarnished and unbending. If the school board members thought they were going to get a pushover on the price of a special election, which was set for March 20, to possibly provide more operating dollars to the school district through a one-mill property tax increase, they were wrong.
“I need $300,000,” Bennett told the board members.
Those were the first words off his lips.
No polite conversation. No, how ya’ll doing. Bennett would later say he might as well give them the cold, hard truth rather than dancing around it.
The board was in need of Bennett’s services after a 3-2 vote on Sept. 19 when board members approved a special election to provide more operating dollars to its school district through a possible one-mill property tax increase.
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, according to district chief financial officer Rebecca Roberts.
Board chairman Charlie Kennedy said to Bennett, “What are our options? Can we drill down a bit?”
Bennett responded, “It’s $300,000.”
It was impossible to tell from Bennett’s demeanor whether he was trying, with his stance, to convince the board to switch to a November election, which would not cost the district anything, but Bennett said later that he does not give advice or take a side.
Bennett told the school board members that he works for the people of Manatee County and he wasn’t going to shortchange them by cutting his price.
Bennett’s firm price got school board member John Colon, who opposes the special election, to read out loud a letter from a Sarasota resident who was upset by The Sarasota County School District also having a school tax election in March, when much of the population is still up north.
Board member Dave Miner said that the reason for the March election was simply that the funds would be available next school year while if the election were in November they would not.
Bennett told the board he could appreciate the desire to put the tax increase into immediate use but that it was still going to cost $300,000.
At the end of the workshop, Miner said the board will find a way to come up with the $300,000, will have an election on March 20 and will be on its way to becoming one of the top school districts in the state.
Bennett told the board that he could get started on the election as soon as the $300,000 is deposited in the Supervisor of Elections account.
Now the board has to discuss from what pot to take $300,000.
School board member Gina Messenger said she hoped to avoid using tax payer money.
Bennett responded that money is money and if someone in the community wants to donate the $300,000 it’s fine.
In other workshop news, Laura Brey, a vice president with the School-Based Health Alliance, gave a passionate presentation about school-based health centers and what it could do for the population of a high school.
“High school students, especially those who are minority, and under-served, tend not to access health care until they are extremely sick and then they use the emergency rooms,” Brey said. “They don’t go to well-care visits. But if they are at school, it’s easy access. They can go to the health center, get their needs met and go back to class.”