Our children deserve a ‘yes’ vote on proposed half-cent sales tax for schools

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CLAY COUNTY – Voters now will decide whether they should invest in our county schools with a half-cent sales tax.

Our children a depending on us to do the right thing by voting yes.

Schools need more than $300 million to make repairs and upgrades. The district, one of the fast-growing in the state, also needs at least $300 million to build seven proposed schools in the future.

Michael Kemp was the Assistant Superintendent of Operations when the sales tax proposal was created. It was his job to keep the air conditioners working, the ceilings from caving in and the bathrooms from flooding. He was passionate about making repairs to the school’s crumbling infrastructure.

“We have the same challenges all other districts face,” he said. “Old, worn out facilities in need of renovation and no funding. We have limited funding, and the funding we have is for restricted purposes and we can only use it for X. There’s an old saying: authority without capacity is futility. We have to have the capacity to be able to execute this mission and solve some of these problems.

“There’s never going to be a right time for this [sales tax], and that’s why probably why it’s not ever discussed. That doesn’t mean this challenge doesn’t remain.”

Kemp went to the Hillsborough County Public Schools when former superintendent Addison Davis was selected to run the country’s eighth-largest school district last April.

While Kemp may be gone, his concerns – and more importantly, the problems – remain.

A half-cent tax would solve those problems. That’s just one penny for every $2 spent at the cash register. Ensuring a better future for our next generation for less than a penny is an easy fix.

While both agree schools are in desperate need of help, the Clay County School Board and Board of County Commissioners spent nearly a year battling in commission chambers and in the courtroom on how to let residents make the final decision.

The school board wanted it included on a special ballot, but the county commission wanted it on the general election ballot. The fight between both elected bodies was both contentious and public.

The commission said voter turnout during a general election has been as high as 87%, but it’s generally about 26% during off-year and special elections.

A judge agreed with the county commission.

The school board voted 4-1 last week to formally ask the BCC to allow voters to make the final decision in November. The commission agreed Tuesday afternoon and supported it with a 5-0 vote.

Now that it’s on the ballot, it’s up to us.

The school board believes it will be able to collect about $600 million during the next 30 years to renovate existing schools and build new ones. As new developments come to Clay County – the BCC approved the creation of the Sandridge Community Development District Tuesday for a 290.5-acre project in Green Cove Springs – it will be imperative we keep pace.

A half-cent tax is a small investment that will create a windfall for our children’s future.

The election for school superintendent also will be on the ballot. There are three candidates – incumbent David Broskie and former superintendents Charlie Van Zant and Ann Wiggins.

It will be important to separate fact from fiction ahead of the election. Some residents have expressed concern over the money already spent to create a school district police department. That’s a debate worth having, but it has nothing to do with the superintendent’s job.

The school police department is a function of the school board, not the superintendent. The superintendent essentially is charged with implementing and enforcing the policies of the school board.

So that shouldn’t be part of the decision-making process for the proposed sales tax. Neither have anything to do with the other.

There’s only one issue to consider: do we want to fix our old schools and build new ones, or do we let our children down?

It’s up to us to decide.

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