“The Palm Beach County School District is proposing a tax referendum that will raise much-needed dollars to support school safety initiatives. However, the language in this proposal specifically says the funds will only go to “non-charter district schools” — excluding thousands of students and teachers at public charter schools, and punishing parents/tax payers who have exercised their school choice option. The Florida Charter School Alliance has reached out to Superintendent Fennoy and school board members asking them to edit to the proposed ballot language to include all public schools,” Ralph Arza, Director of Governmental Affairs.
Public charter school parents, teachers, principals and governing board members are encouraged to attend the School Board meeting on Wednesday, July 18 at 5 p.m. to ask board members to include charter school teachers and students in the ballot proposal. Meeting location: Palm Beach School Board, 3300 Forest Hill Blvd. West Palm Beach, FL 33406. If you plan to address the board, please arrive by 4:30 p.m. and fill out a blue speaker card. You will be give 3 minutes to address the board.
Private polling boosted PBC schools’ push for a $150 million tax hike
Palm Beach Post article by Andrew Marra -July 17, 2018
Palm Beach County public school leaders decided last month to press ahead with a proposed $150 million tax increase after a poll suggested strong support for the proposal among county voters, newly obtained polling records show.
The private poll, which surveyed about 400 county voters in early May, found that 59 percent supported raising a special property tax that provides extra money for public schools, according to a summary obtained by The Palm Beach Post through a public-records request.
Thirty-two percent of those polled were opposed and 9 percent were unsure. Voters’ support increased further after pollsters highlighted the tax hike’s potential benefits to schools, the summary showed.
A month after the poll was conducted, Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy called for asking voters to quadruple the tax to boost teacher salaries and enhance school safety. The school board is expected to vote Wednesday to put the proposed tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Fennoy and his staff weighed the poll results in determining how to proceed with the high-stakes push, discreetly sharing highlights with business and community leaders as they worked to build support. Despite that, details of the poll results remained closely held.
“It was helpful in that it gave us a sense that there was community support out there,” said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer. “As it worked out, it definitely helped to fortify the recommendation that we were putting together.”
The poll, conducted by Florida Opinion Research, was arranged by political consultant Rick Asnani, whom the school district hired to help coordinate its strategy for pitching the tax increase to the public. The poll reported a 4.9 percent margin of error, making it less reliable than most political polls, which tend to have margins of error between 3 percent and 4 percent.
County voters have regularly supported tax increases to benefit schools in recent decades. But some educators worry that voters will be skeptical of another tax hike for public schools two years after being asked to raise the county sales tax.
In 2016, 57 percent of voters approved raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent for a decade, with the school district receiving half of the proceeds and the county’s municipal governments splitting the other half. All told, the extra “penny tax” is expected to raise an extra $2.7 billion over 10 years for construction, maintenance, repairs and new equipment.
In the May poll, support for the tax increase jumped significantly, from 59 percent to 68 percent, after pollsters told the voters more about how the tax increase could benefit schools, including teacher raises, supporting arts programs, allowing more hiring of mental health counselors and guaranteeing a police officer stationed on each campus.
Support for the tax increase varied by gender, race, political affiliation and whether the voters had children or owned a home, the results showed. Women, for instance, were more likely to support the increase than men, and Democrats were more likely to support it than Republicans.
But among those polled, a majority of voters in each demographic group supported the tax increase when first asked, and support grew after voters learned more about the benefits.
The district’s consultant, Asnani of Cornerstone Solutions Florida, arranged the poll after receiving a $21,000 school district contract to coordinate the referendum campaign. But district administrators denied paying for the poll with public tax dollars.
Although Asnani received district money to develop strategies for the tax referendum, the poll he arranged was paid for by an “outside private group,” Burke said. He declined to name the group. Asnani did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Burke warned that the polling is “not an exact science.” But he said the results were encouraging and indicated that efforts by the school district to raise awareness about the tax increase’s potential benefits could have a significant effect on voters’ attitudes.
The special tax in question, which property owners would pay in addition to regular school property taxes, has been in place for decades but has to be re-approved by voters this year.
Hoping for an influx of money, the district is proposing to quadruple the tax rate, from $25 per $100,000 of taxable property value to $100 per $100,000 of taxable property value.
For the owner of a home with a $300,000 appraised taxable value and no exemptions, that would mean an extra $225 a year in school taxes next year.
The hike would raise the amount collected countywide from roughly $50 million this year to an estimated $200 million next year.
But if voters reject it, the school district will lose the $50 million it depends on today to pay for more than 650 teaching positions.
The poll’s finding of overall support for the tax increase is in line with a separate poll commissioned by the Florida Charter School Alliance and conducted last month among about 400 likely county voters.
That poll, conducted by National Victory Strategies, showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting the tax increase and 25 percent opposing. Another 20 percent were undecided. That poll was said to have a 5 percent margin of error.
That alliance’s poll also found that 58 percent agreed that charter schools should receive a portion of the windfall from a tax increase, while 29 percent disagreed and 14 percent were unsure.
That finding suggests a risk of potential political complications for the school district, which initially proposed sharing the windfall with the county’s 48 charter schools but changed course amid pressure from school board members, who opposed giving more public dollars to the privately managed schools.
The chairman of Palm Beach Maritime Academy, a Lantana charter school, last week threatened legal action after learning of the district’s proposed about-face.
Board members will take up the proposed referendum in a meeting that begins 5 p.m. Wednesday – July 18.