MY VIEW: Veteran sets heroic example

MY VIEW: Millage-rate renewal critical to continued success

By: 
Oct. 31, 2014

Will our West Orange schools continue their same high-performing trajectory in 2015-16?  That’s for us to decide Nov. 4, when we vote on whether to renew the additional one mill of property tax for schools.

In November 2010 Orange County voters approved a four-year, one-mill property-tax increase to: 

1. Retain highly qualified teachers. 

2. Maintain academic programs.

3. Preserve career and life skill enrichment programs such as arts, student activities and athletics.  

That extra one mill expires in June 2015. Without it, OCPS will lack funding for the jobs these programs create and diminish the opportunities for students.  

The special millage is about “renewing” and “preserving.” Our mission at OCPS is to lead students to success. Our school district, alongside the community, wants to sustain its momentum of success. Orange County Public Schools just won the coveted Broad Prize for urban education — OCPS was recognized for closing achievement gaps and raising student performance across all demographics! To continue to reach new heights we at least need to maintain the level of service we currently offer.

The one-mill property tax is a continuation. Homeowners will not pay more than what they have been paying for the past four years unless their appraisal value has risen. For a home assessed at $150,000 it is $10.42 per month or about 34 cents per day.

Why are you being asked to continue to help financially support public education? Because year after year, Florida laws are enacted that shift more of the cost onto local citizens so we keep local schools nationally and internationally competitive. We live in a community that emphasizes economic development as well as offers a high quality of life.  The backbone of success is a well-rounded education, not only because of the great opportunities it provides our young people but because “A” and “B” schools increase our community and personal property values.

Consider some of the unfunded mandates that the school board must manage:

The Class Size Reduction Amendment to the Florida Constitution, a good idea that voters approved in 2002,  limits class size for “core” classes resulting in increased costs: space, teachers, class supplies all must be increased.  Kindergarten classes, for example, can have no more than 18 students per class.  When a 19th student is registered, the class may be split and another teacher hired.  By comparison, other states are increasing their class sizes to fill in their budget holes.

The state requires an additional one hour of reading per day at 20 OCPS elementary schools — right idea but increases staffing, space, etc.

The state requires that all districts be 50% digital for instructional material this year with no additional funding. A separate fund of $1.6M is provided for developing a digital classroom plan to service 192,000 students. That is about $6 per student that is needed to purchase new curriculum materials, devices to view the new material and infrastructure.

While property values and tax revenues have turned the corner and started to rise, the gap between the revenues and state funding for education is still too wide to pay for state-mandated programs.

Some people will clamor to cut administrators, especially in the downtown building. They’re right: This deserves a constant look. The facts are that OCPS is and has been for years among the five leanest school districts in Florida for administrative costs per-student. And the Operations Division just won the Governor’s Sterling Award, the highest management award in the state.

I hope parents, business partners, volunteers and the community will join me in the voting booth to continue funding the one mill. This is a four-year property tax investment that will last our young people a lifetime and that we should absolutely re-evaluate before renewing again.  I believe our state and nation’s slow but steady recovery from the recession will provide for the tax base necessary in the future, but we are just not there yet. Please vote YES on November 4, 2014 – it’s the last item on the ballot! 

Thank you for allowing me to serve our community and feel free to contact me should you have any questions, comments or concerns about our school district.

Pam Gould

OCPS School Board Member District 4

Pamela.Gould@ocps.net