Although they have discussed it perhaps more than any other issue in their recent history, the five members of the Manatee County School Board were still wrestling Tuesday night with the special election to ask Manatee County citizens for more school funds.
In their latest small step, the board on Tuesday, by a 3-2 vote, approved March 20, 2018, as the date of the election and approved to set aside $300,000 for the cost of the election.
School board members Dave Miner, Gina Messenger and Charlie Kennedy remain in favor of the March election while John Colon and Scott Hopes, both of whom voted “no” Tuesday, are in favor of other options or other times to raise money for school funds.
So, where the issue stands after months of debate is that Manatee County’s voters will officially decide on March 20 if the school district will get roughly $33 million from a one-mill tax increase to be used to make teacher salaries competitive, add support staff to Manatee classrooms and extend the school day by 30 minutes.
But the issue wasn’t really put to rest with the vote.
Michael Bennett, the county’s supervisor of elections, threw the conflicted board members a curve Tuesday when he offered board members the option of having the special election in August, which would be free and, unlike a free special election in November, would allow the district to actually use the funds in the 2018-19 school year.
Bennett said he got the idea of a free August election after talking to his staff and Manatee County Property Appraiser Charles Hackney.
How it would work, Bennett said, is that the taxpayers would receive their tax trim notices in August 2018 with the one-mill tax included.
But language in the trim notices would explain that their actual taxes could be lower.
Miner, who is a proponent of the March special election, was furious with Bennett.
“What precedent is it for a school district to include in its trim notice money that hasn’t been approved?” Miner said.
“I know the county does it,” Bennett replied. “I talked to Charlie Hackney. You can always decrease the bill, not increase.”
“Was it an attorney who, on behalf of Mr. Hackney, sent the letter explaining this?” Bennett asked.
School board Chairman Charlie Bennett finally had to step in, saying Miner’s “cross-examination” of Bennett, who appeared just trying to be helpful, was not appropriate.
Although the school boardwill still consider the August election, mainly because it is free, it does present serious challenges, said Superintendent Diana Greene.
If the election were held in August, school would have already begun, and the 30 minutes that were promised to be added to the school day in the election would be very troubling to parents, teachers and others, Greene said.
Also, the competitive teacher salaries that a March election would promise would be more difficult to use as a selling point to teachers months later in August, when teachers are already being hired, Greene said.