With special election on proposed tax hike, school board wants teacher salaries to be more competitive

Manatee County School Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy
Manatee County School Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy Bradenton Herald file photo

Manatee County Commissioners gave the OK for a special election that will ask voters whether their property taxes should increase for four years to help schools and teachers.

Commissioners Betsy Benac, Steve Jonsson, Charles Smith, Priscilla Trace and Carol Whitmore voted in favor of holding a special election.

Commissioners Vanessa Baugh and Robin DiSabatino voted against the resolution, questioning why the election was proposed to be held on March 20, according to a school board agreement and the supervisor of election’s office.

“I don’t disagree with the need for money for the teachers,” DiSabatino said, calling in to the meeting remotely. “I’m not a gambler.”

The off-year election could be expensive for what could be a low turnout, compared to if it were held in August, she said. The cost of the special election, for which the School Board of Manatee County is paying, is $300,000. The school board approved going forward with the special election in October.

School Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy was present at the commission meeting Tuesday to answer questions commissioners had.

He said the election would be held in March as to not confuse it with the three school board races in August. If the tax increase is approved, the changed millage rate would be reflected in residents’ TRIM notices later in the year.

Also, Kennedy added that they had to “hit the gas pedal” to stop rumors about what adding one mill to the current 6.6080-mills school tax rate — already slightly higher than what the county government gets — would mean, saying the details of how the money would be spent would be presented during the school board’s next meeting.

“We will be exactly crystal clear of how these funds will be used,” he said.

Kennedy 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 revenue from the tax increase would be used for operational funds to support teacher pay, after-school programs, an extra 30 minutes of school day and new programs in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.

While it’s a school board issue, county commission approval had to be sought because “that is the way the Legislature chose to adopt it years ago,” said Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague, because it involves salary increases.

“By adopting this resolution today, the board of county commissioners is not endorsing an increase in the school board millage rate,” said County Attorney Mickey Palmer, as a disclaimer.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse