School, Tax Reform face off in forum

By: 
Oct. 30, 2012

The Volusia County School Board met Volusia Tax Reform Monday, Oct. 29, to debate a proposed millage increase.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

The Volusia County School Board met Volusia Tax Reform at Daytona Beach’s Schnebly Recreation Center Monday, Oct. 29, to debate the warrants of its proposed one mill property tax increase, to appear on the Nov. 6 elections ballot.

“We’re all here to support education in one way or another, regardless of our differences,” said Robert Moll, the district’s finance director.

But the two sides’ differences were stark.

While the School Board — represented by Moll, and members Candace Lankford and Stan Schmidt — took the stance that additional funding is “necessary” to ensure academic achievement and stimulate economic development, Volusia Tax Reform — represented by Margie Patchett, director; G.G. Galloway, commercial real estate broker; and Maureen France, cofounder — stated that no amount of money can fix a broken system.

“Our position is not an attack on teachers and those in the classroom — quite the contrary,” Patchett said. “We don’t need more money for education. We need more education for our money.”

The proposed millage increase, which would charge property owners an additional $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, would last four years, if approved by voters, and generate $100 million of revenue for the district — essential funds, according to the School Board.

After cutting 247 teachers last year due to budget shortfalls, and 2,000 total workers since 2007, Volusia has been graded a C district for the first time, Lankford said, calling the local school system a “canary in the mine.”

“If we don’t have the workforce, no businesses are going to come here, no matter what our tax is,” she said. ”Volusia County has closed schools. ... We have made tough decisions. We have been leaders, because we know we want to provide for our students, and we need the resources to be able to do that.”

Volusia’s current millage rate rank 27th highest of 67 counties in Florida, she added. According to the Department of Education, 63% of the district’s operating dollars are spent in the classroom, Moll said.

Pointing to the soon-to-expire .25-mill critical needs levy, though, Patchett worried about the timing of the tax and its future implications.

“Bad economy — bad idea,” she said. “We don’t have a budget crisis; we have a priorities crisis. ... What, is (the School Board) going to ask for a $200 million tax in another four years (when this one expires)?”

The group also pointed to the effect increased taxes would have on local businesses.

“I’m looking at it from the commercial side,” Galloway said. “It is passive tax. When you go to the Regal (Cinema), you’re going to be paying $1 more for your ticket. You’re going to be paying an extra 50 cents for your popcorn.”

This is how companies will recoup their tax losses, he said.

“It’s called the cost of doing business,” he added. “And this is just another stab in the heart.”

“Times are tough — we understand,” France said. “(But) it’s tough for businesses. It’s tough for each and every family out there. It’s tough for property owners. These tough times call for tough leadership.”

In Galloway’s closing statements, he noted that, of the world’s 11 industrialized countries, America spends more on education than 10 of them. But, according to Lankford, that’s because American schools teach every student, regardless of disability or native language.

She also listed the programs and curriculum regulations that have been added to schools in recent years: health education, safety and drug programs, literacy programs, Race to the Top....

“And we haven’t added a single minute to the school calendar in six decades,” she said. “We are simply inundated at a state and national level with changes of historic proportions that are impacting what we can do for our students ... (and) we are doing the best we can to bring the rigor and relevance into their lives.

“To think that we don’t need resources to meet these demands is naïve. I know this is what our students need.”