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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2018 2 months ago

OCPS seeks millage renewal to retain funding for arts, sports programs

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The special millage, a one-mill special ad valorem property tax levied on property owners, provides the district with funding for arts and athletic education. 
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

Orange County voters will have the opportunity to vote on a renewal of the special millage dedicated to Orange County Public Schools on the Aug. 28 election.

One of the questions on the ballot regards the one-mill special ad valorem property tax that property owners currently pay on their tax bills. 

The tax, which generated $116,368,388 during the 2016-17 school year, is added to the OCPS budget and earmarked for myriad programs. The programs mostly include arts and athletics education, but the money also helps fund teacher-retention programs, helps pay for social workers who aid at-risk students and pays for some college and career counselors, said OCPS Chief Communications Officer Scott Howat. 

The special millage, which remains in effect for four years, was first passed in 2010 by 58% of Orange County’s voters and then approved for renewal in 2014 by 76%, Howat said. 

Howat said school-district officials are grateful of Orange County residents’ generosity. He also emphasized that, because of inadequate funding from the state and federal government and minimal year-by-year increases in per-student funding, the money is desperately needed to support the country’s ninth largest school district.

OCPS currently has an estimated 209,560 enrolled students and 24,629 employees — 14,213 of which are teachers.

“State revenue makes up about 51.6%; local revenue makes up about 40.2% of our funding; the federal government makes up (0.6%) of our funding,” Howat said. “And then the special millage — the one mill — makes up about 7.6% of our funding. So it’s small compared to what the state provides, but it’s still critical.” 

Howat said the 7.6% is critical because per-student funding from the state is below what it should be, if adjusted for inflation. 

“The difference in the per-student funding between July of 2007 and July of 2018 is $32.75, over 11 years,” Howat said. “That means that we’ve increased on average less than $3 per student from the state. And ... if the (state) would have funded, just based on whatever the Consumer Price Index increase was, we would be $1,400 over where we are today, as of July of 2018.”

Howat said the per-student funding increase the district received this year was $110 but added the vast majority of the total already was designated toward specific programs,  including more school-safety officers and mental-health counselors.

After those programs, the district received a 47-cent increase in per-student funding for discretionary expenses, he said.

“So our concern is, with this small of an increase and with us continuing to try to find more efficiencies in our budget and trying to squeeze things up so we can give raises to teachers and do other things. ... How do we continue to maintain the momentum?” he said.

If the referendum does not pass this year, OCPS anticipates a 2019 budget reduction of about $143 million, Howat said. The school approved to add the referendum to the ballot on April 10, and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the resolution during its May 22 meeting. 

The decision is now left up to Orange County voters, who may vote on the millage Aug. 28. Early voting will be from Aug. 17 to 26.

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers. Have a story tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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