On Your Ballot: Why the Schools Sales Tax Referendum is so Critical
We are living in unprecedented times. Consider all the forces at work in our country right now — the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 presidential election and issues of social justice. It’s a year we’ll never forget. Understandably, it is easy to forget there are other items on the ballot in November.
I would argue one item with the greatest importance to voters in our community is the renewal of the ½-cent sales tax for Brevard Public Schools (BPS). Brevard County voters passed the surtax in 2014 for a six-year period. If not renewed this November, the funding will end.
When the tax was passed for the purpose of facility renewal, educational technology and security, the projected outstanding need exceeded $750,000,000. Revenue through June 2020 amounts to $238,000,000, with $194,000,000 encumbered. Based on the current revenue, less than 35% of the projected needs in 2014 will have been covered by June.
You read that correctly, the sales tax has only provided funding for less than 1/3 of the critical needs identified in 2014. This doesn’t take into account the funding needs that have arisen over the last six years.
You may ask, how was this money spent? Did the school district spend the money the way they said they would? The answer to these questions is a resounding yes, according to the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) established at the inception of the program. Brevard voters passed this surtax because BPS laid out several specific purposes for what the money would be used for, and it did not include any operational money, i.e. teacher salaries. (That funding source is a different bucket.)
The money was spent according to plan in the following areas:
- $159,700,000 in facility renewal, ¾ of that spent on projects related to HVAC
- $21,300,000 on educational technology, including 7,200 computers, 6,000 phones, 1,200 wireless access points, 700 switches and 600 servers.
- $13,200,000 on school security.
The ICOC meets bi-monthly to review revenues, expenditures and project status and presents an annual report to the school board and audit committee. Additionally, the district’s internal auditors perform an audit twice per year and the results have come back perfect nine out of nine times.
So where do we go from here? There is a funding backlog of nearly $500,000,000 in projects identified in 2014 and not funded through this round of the tax. A workshop in August will address the work plan for the surtax renewal including an update on the documented needs.
I encourage you to stay tuned for updates to make your final decision on the necessity of renewal. In the meantime, I leave you with a quote from John F. Kennedy, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
As president and CEO of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce, Michael Ayers is a strategic leader with experience managing government agencies, political campaigns and community-based organizations. He has spent over 17 years in government relations, management, and political marketing throughout Washington, D.C., Illinois, Tallahassee and Brevard County.
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