Like many school districts in Florida (20 and counting by the referendums on the 2022 ballot), Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) school district is asking voters to approve a voluntary, additional tax on their property to fund the school system.

It’s one mil or one-one thousandth (.001) of the taxable property value. To put it in context, for every $1,000 of property value, it’s an additional dollar. For GOT’s district, that money will go to fund increases in teacher salaries (65% of revenue), support personnel wages (10%), arts and sports (12.5%), and yes, it’s required in Florida, a hand-off of revenue to charter schools (12.5%).

While some play the numbers game (GOT fondly remembers a vacuum cleaner salesman explaining how his product only costs pennies a day, but doing the math and it added up to hundreds of dollars in one year) by saying that an owner of a $125,000 home would only pay $8.33 a month, still that’s $100 a year. (If you’re doing the math in your head, Florida has a homestead deduction of the first $25,000 of property value for a home before the tax is applied.)

Because property owners pay their tax bill once every year, not every month, the cited figure is appreciable. But the typical home price in the district is around $314,000 and the impact of one additional mil would be more like $25 a month or $300 a year.

In these difficult times of inflation, soaring property values, and recession-on-the-horizon, it’s not hard to understand that this time around the voters may be reluctant to approve additional support for their school system that would ordinarily be a slam-dunk win. The timing is also unstrategic as voters will begin early voting in another week or go to the polls in three weeks in this month of August when the projected property tax bills with all the increases will arrive in the mail.

Based upon gripes GOT has seen on social media, many people do not understand that school boards in Florida do not benefit from increases in property values. The state forces millage reductions every year to stop that. As an illustration, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund developed this graphic:

3.2 or 5.4? Read on.

The declining millage rate … or is it? The School Board recently voted on this year’s millage rate and set it to 5.4% as the state forced a 0.4% reduction. How do we explain the discrepancy?

Twitter to the rescue. GOT raised the question recently, tagged the school system, and here’s the exchange:

A school board budget is complex, filled with mandates, both unfunded and restricted, that come from state and federal laws. The advantage to having a public school system (not a faux version as in charter schools) is that everything is available to the public even if no one wants to spend month after month digesting 100 pages plus of financial disclosures that take place at every board meeting.

School districts can’t just move funds around on the board like a chess player does. If they are to have additional money to raise teacher salaries to make a dent in the accelerating exodus of personnel, localities are going to have to agree to tax themselves. The state government is quite uninterested in providing competent, credentialed teachers for public schools. But teachers are finding that private industry values their skills, is willing to pay them higher salaries, and won’t require 24/7 availability or even that they purchase their own office supplies.

Yet, GOT hears what people are saying. These are tough times as inflation threatens to break into double digits. They would like to provide better salaries to teachers, but everyone is hurting.

GOT can’t tell people what to do about the referendum. But he will share a story from his past, a time when he wasn’t a teacher. GOT spent a few years being a preacher.

The salary was abysmal even worse than a teacher. What was doubly delicious was that the church was exempt from paying Social Security taxes, which meant that GOT had to cover both the employee and the employer’s burden that came to 15.3% of income every year. Because the church provided a home and utilities, GOT had to add in the fair market value of that into his annual IRS calculation of how much that 15.3% would be applied to.

To keep the number simple, say GOT was making 25 grand in salary. But the housing and utilities was valued at an extra 15 grand a year. For paying the Social Security tax, that meant 15.3% of 40,000. OUCH! It was a struggle.

Then occasionally (and we’re getting to the point), the church people would complain about the services they were paying for. “Why should we pay to mow your lawn? No one does that for us.”

GOT always cheerfully replied, “No problem. I will happily mow the lawn and take care of the grounds. But that will require at least one-half day a week, a time that I now spend preparing sermons and lessons, going to hospitals, conducting funerals, visiting, and praying for you. You decide. What do you want me to do?”

Inevitably, the people stopped complaining. That’s where we are with the referendum. A teacher’s salary is not enough for them to live on and provide for their families. The State of Florida is not sending any more money. What do you, the voters, want from teachers?

If you choose to vote down the referendum, you accept the fact that teachers may have to take on second jobs (not only in the summer but during the school year). Their availability will decrease. They cannot spend 10 hours a day as a professional would do to meet all obligations as they have to make it to Denny’s for the 4 to 11 PM shift.

What do you want? If you want teachers available for after-school conferences, if you want them to spend their evenings grading papers and updating the online gradebook, if you want phone calls returned and emails answered within 24 hours, you have to pay them enough so they don’t have to work those second jobs.

If you want them to live in your city or town so they don’t have to spend an hour or more commuting in the morning and again in the evening, you have to pay them enough so they can afford to live among you.

What do you want? Make your choice, but don’t complain about the consequences if teachers, just like you, have to make difficult life choices and move on.

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