Palm Beach Post | By Giuseppe Sabella | March 24, 2022
Palm Beach County residents can expect to see a property tax referendum for public schools — including charter schools — on their ballots in November when voters will decide the fate of millions in funding for teacher pay, mental health resources, school safety and the arts.
Voters in 2018 approved the tax after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Florida lawmakers had required an armed guard at every school, and districts needed money for the new mandate.
That money is needed more than ever, Superintendent Mike Burke said, highlighting the ongoing mental health concerns fueled by COVID-19 and the consequences of not renewing the tax.
“Everything that it’s supporting would be in serious jeopardy,” he said.
With the tax’s June 2023 expiration date looming, the school board voted Wednesday to hold another referendum Nov. 8, when voters could approve or strike down an extension through June 2027.
The referendum date now faces approval by county commissioners.
How is the property tax for Palm Beach County schools spent?
The tax is equal to $1 for every $1,000 on a home’s assessed value, meaning the owner of a home with a $300,000 appraised taxable value and no exemptions, for example, would owe $300 a year.
Voter approval would mean about $240 million for school programs and hiring efforts in 2024.
After passing the current tax more than three years ago, the school district touted improvements in school safety, mental health, teacher pay and the arts. That included:
- $20 million per year for the school police force, which funded more officers, equipment and security at secondary school events.
- $20 million that funded contracts for more behavioral health services and the hiring of school psychologists and counselors.
- $54 million that paid for “teachers on special assignment” to improve fine arts curriculum, and that helped to add more than 650 jobs in fine arts, choice and career academy programs.
- $110 million to improve teacher pay. That included a $10,000 annual supplement for educators with at least a decade of experience, along with smaller payments worth between $1,000 to $5,000 for other teachers.
Charter schools would now get part of the money
The district’s charter schools would also receive a proportionate share of the revenue going forward — an amount that varies depending on the enrollment at each school.
The last voter-approved referendum said revenue would benefit only traditional public schools. But charter schools — which are public schools with their own governing boards and more autonomy than traditional campuses — fought back.
Palm Beach Maritime Academy, G-Star School of the Arts and the Academy for Positive Learning sued for their share in 2019.
Though a panel of judges initially sided with the school district, an appeals court reversed the decision, securing tens of millions of dollars for roughly 50 charter schools in the county. And the Florida Legislature has since amended the law to guarantee charter schools’ share of future tax referendums.
Palm Beach County’s upcoming referendum says the tax renewal would benefit “public schools,” a departure from the language that carved out charters in 2018.
The referendum also guarantees continued oversight by a group of experts and residents who keep watch over the additional tax revenue.
Contract with PBSO for deputies approved
Also on Wednesday, the school board approved a contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, making 20 deputies and two sergeants available to district schools at a cost of $100 and $136 per hour, respectively.
The school district reported the hiring of 110 officers — including school resource officers, detectives, K9 officers, trainers and sergeants — as a result of the 2018 tax approval.
Still, the district acknowledged a shortfall of more than 60 officers in its own police force last month.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the superintendent said every school had a law enforcement officer on campus, despite the shortage, and that sheriff’s deputies would add “a little more depth on the bench” while the school district recruits officers.