Letter to the Editor: How taxes fuel schools

The Orange County School Board will ask the voters to renew the current one-mill ad valorem millage for essential operating expenses.

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  • | 9:18 a.m. October 8, 2014
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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On Nov. 4, 2014: It’s your decision! You will be asked to help mold the future of the children of this community. The Orange County School Board will ask the voters to renew the current one-mill ad valorem millage for essential operating expenses in order to preserve academic programs, retain highly qualified teachers, and protect arts, athletics and student activities for an additional four years.

As the Central Florida community continues to climb out of the worst economic times in recent history, there is still a need for assistance from our local community to continue the support of our schools. In 2012-13, the additional millage provided $42.6 million to preserve academic programs and retain highly qualified teachers; $32.9 million to protect arts (music, art and drama); $5.3 million to protect athletics; and $1.9 million to protect student activities.

In 2007, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) received more than $7,300 per student in funding – fast-forward to today and the state funding per student is $6,883. If you use the Federal Consumer Price Index (CPI) without the millage, our buying power is $1,500 less than it was in 2007-2008.

What happens if the millage is not approved? In the next fiscal year, June 2015, cuts of approximately $95 million or $499 per student will have to be made. What does that mean? Without the mill this year, the equivalent of 710 teachers along with some fine arts and athletic programs would have been lost.

How much will the one mill cost? Because this would be a continuation of the one mill, it would not cost more than what homeowners have been paying for the last four years. For a home worth $150,000, it is $10.42 per month.

But didn’t voters just approve a tax extension? Yes, this one-mill property tax is different from the half-penny sales tax renewal voters passed in August. The half-cent is used for capital improvements like renovating or replacing existing schools and buying classroom technology. The one-mill property tax only goes toward operational expenses – staff and programs within the school.

How is my money spent? For every dollar received 78 cents is spent on teaching, transporting, supervising and counseling students; 7 cents is used for library materials, staff training and curriculum development; 10 cents goes toward acquiring, operating and maintaining school facilities; and 5 cents goes towards central and fiscal services, general administration and district technology.

Can’t you fund these things through more belt tightening? No, OCPS is consistently recognized for its fiscal responsibility. Just this year, OCPS received the coveted Governor’s Sterling Award for organizational performance excellence. For the past several years, OCPS has been consistently ranked in the top-five public schools districts in Florida for the least amount of administrative expenditures per student.

For additional information, I encourage you to visit www.ocps.net or call the Public Information Office at 407-317-3463.

— Joie Cadle, District 1 School Board Member