LARGO -- In all the hubbub and promotion for a half mill increase by the Pinellas County School Board, which will appear as a referendum on the ballot November 2, one lone voice on the board speaks in opposition.
Nancy Bostock, that member in opposition to her colleagues to the idea that would cost taxpayers 50 cents additional on every $1,000 valuation of property, gives 10 solid reasons for her stand.
The referendum for additional tax is "sunsetted," that is, it would be in place for four years, raising about $28 million each of those years. The idea is to give teachers a raise, proponents say.
That limited time is questioned by Bostock. "If we spend this money on teachers' salaries for four years, how will we continue to pay the teachers raises in year five and beyond?"
Good question. As she points out, "If we are worried about teacher morale now, what happens when the money stops?" She calls the four year tax increase a "FORever years tax increase."
Pinellas County teachers are the highest paid among Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernandez, and Citrus counties. With a mean average of $36,200 in salary and total benefits of $47,800, those figures extrapolate to $47,000 and $61,000, respectively, on a yearly basis.
School teachers rank in the middle of a list of occupations as to pay in the Tampa Bay area -- more than accountants, registered nurses, police and firemen, among others.
Bostock criticizes the "scare tactics" used by her colleagues on the School Board. "The ballot language," she points out, "basically threatens cuts in reading programs, art and music, technology and textbooks -- all the politically ‘hot' issues."
Ethical issues are another factor raised by Bostock. She questions a government using taxpayer dollars to lobby the voters for more money. Bostock points out that the School Board has hired a communications consultant who is advising the board how to promote the referendum so it will pass.
The referendum calls for a review of the expenditures raised by the proposed new tax by an independent citizens financial oversight committee. Bostock questions the wisdom of that. "Are you sure you want to turn over 100 million taxpayer dollars to an unelected, unaccountable committee?"
She objects to the increased financial burden on taxpayers and questions whether increased revenue for the School Board will result in student achievement.
"This proposed increased in spending is not tied in any way to improved delivery of education," Bostock says. She points out that a study by the Wall Street Journal has reported that on progress reading scores there was no link between spending and performance.
There is no budget crisis, Bostock maintains, even though, she says, this is what those who want the tax increase assert. "We will get almost $30 million in new dollars this year alone," she says, pointing out that the total taxable value of all property in Pinellas County has risen 32 percent in the past three years.
The School Board has a budget of $1.2 billion. Bostock is a strong advocate of the board taking a hard look at its budget and prioritizing expenditures. She says this has never been done. "If we truly want to help teachers, we need to set priorities on our current spending," Bostock says.
What do you think? We asked the following question of our online readers:
One of the referendum questions on the November 2 ballot will be a request to impose an additional half-mil (50 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value) to the school tax. Please indicate whether you favor or oppose such a measure.
The result was:
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