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Yes: 1 Mill for Alachua Schools

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Columns2012Mike Griffis, Vice-Chairman, Citizens for Strong Schools

For Alachua County Public Schools, we have an opportunity Tuesday to renew a one mill ad valorem tax to pay for school nurses, classroom technology, and music, art, library, guidance, band, chorus, and academic magnet programs.

Vote Yes…

And don’t fall victim to four common misconceptions.  Let me debunk them here.

  1. School taxes have increased: False.

School funding comes mainly from two sources: sales tax dollars and local property taxes.  The state legislature controls nearly all of this.  Every year, it sends fewer sales tax dollars and caps the millage rate that our school district can levy (one mill is $1 tax per $1,000 property value).

In 1995, it was 12.2 mill.  Today, it is down to 8.5, counting the 1 mill.  Actual yearly ad valorem tax on a typical house has been flat, no difference or even less when compared to 1995.  A house that has significantly appreciated since then might pay nominally $125 more (see http://yesforalachuaschools.org).

While your taxes have increased, our public schools are not getting them.

In pre-Lottery 1988, the legislature funded education with 60 percent of the overall state budget.  Now, to pay for pet projects, the legislature has reduced education to 29 percent of the budget.

Emphasis in the term-limited legislature is not on public education.  But state law does allow for voter-approved additional millage to pay for programs ignored by the legislature; hence, the ballot initiative.

  1. Administration is bloated, funding isn’t getting into classrooms: False.

In the budget for our school district, 77 percent goes to personnel, which are mostly teachers.

Only one-half a percent goes to general administration and pays folks working out of a building built in 1900.  School administration, mostly principals and vice-principals of 42 schools, gets 6 percent of the budget.

Almost 2/3 of the budget is instructional.  The remaining 1/3 supports it.  It is well run and worthy of our support.

  1. Graduation rate is low and this means our schools are failing: False.

The term-limited state legislature has embraced a national movement to streamline education and force it into a one-size-fits-all blueprint.  Yes, teacher accountability is important, students need to be tested for ensuring progress, and reading, writing, and arithmetic are necessary aspects of a high quality education.

But the legislature has placed too much focus on reducing costs and the sole utopian goal of prepping all students for college.  To receive a high school diploma, students must now pass Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Biology I, Chemistry I, and a Science Lab.

Not all students can pass these courses, nor would all students benefit from them.  Not all jobs require a college degree, and in fact most do not.

Some options like vocational courses are all but a memory in the college-or-bust mandate.  School districts lack the opportunity to provide appropriate options for students so they can get quality jobs suited to their abilities.

School districts are then penalized when students fail and drop out.  There is a horde of uneducated and angry dropouts on the horizon.

Our Alachua County Public Schools is very successful as our high school graduation rate is 87 percent.  Our children have access to a high quality education, in spite of the mandates coming from Tallahassee.

  1. Privatizing schools will improve the results at lower cost: False.

Another national movement being embraced privatizes public education using charter schools.  Charters often appear out of nowhere and disappear like gypsies. To nurture them, charters are exempt from many of the mandates of public schools.  They select desirable students, often drop-kicking unwanted students back into the public school system.

Rewarded are charter schools that lack educational and enterprise experience but lobby to be pet projects.  Rewarded are those administrators with exorbitant salaries.  Penalized are high performing public school districts like our own.  Public schools must take everyone and educate using fewer funds.

Remember this when you vote: A high quality public education is a right guaranteed to our children.  The State of Florida Constitution devotes an entire article to public education to ensure this.

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