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Brevard County voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether to raise school property taxes, primarily to pay for increased salaries for Brevard public school staff.
A measure on the November ballot would require additional taxes of $1 per $1,000 of assessed value of Brevard properties. That would be $153.10 more per year for the median Brevard single-family home, which has an assessed value of $153,100.
The current school property tax rate is $5.495 per $1,000, and would increase to $6.495 per $1,000 under this proposal.
District leaders and school board members say raising the tax rate may be the district’s best option for raising salaries for veteran teachers and other employees.
Recent legislation raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour for school employees and established a minimum wage for teachers. But it does mean that more experienced employees and managers now earn a bit more than their newly hired peers.
Like many other districts in the United States, Brevard Public Schools is facing a shortage of key personnel, especially teachers and bus drivers.
BPS Superintendent Mark Mullins said the budget cuts would be insufficient to address these challenges, as the district has already made several million dollars in cuts in recent years and hit “rock bottom”.
Opponents of the proposal argued at school board meetings and online that Brevard public schools could find the money if the district spent the money more wisely, or that the tax would make things worse for families in times of economic slowdown.
In August, Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia suggested blocking the ballot proposal, but did not win support from other county commissioners, who said the commission had no legal right to do it.
Florida Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, a frequent BPS critic, also called on the commission to block the measure.
If voters approve the ballot measure, the district expects it to receive about $54 million in annual revenue.
However, BPS would not see the money for some time. The increase would not take effect until November 2023. After that, it would remain in effect for four years.
In a presentation to the Brevard School Board, Mullins said 80% of the money the district would receive would go to employee compensation and benefits, 16% would go to student programs, and 4% would go to technology.
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Salaries and benefits
Of the 80% budgeted for compensation and benefits, 83% — or about $36 million a year — would go to regular salaries and benefits.
About $4.5 million would go to additional salaries for additional positions held by staff members, such as coaching jobs. Mullins said under the current pay scale, extra coaching salaries often mean coaches are paid less than minimum wage for the total number of hours they put in on teams.
A final amount of $2.8 million would be devoted to employment incentives and recruitment and retention.
Under the current bargaining agreement between the Brevard Federation of Teachers and BPS, teachers have a minimum wage of $48,725 this year.
Bargaining between the district and major employee unions – such as the Brevard Federation of Teachers and the local branch of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which represents approximately 3,000 district support staff in various fields – determines how the raises would ultimately be distributed.
A memorandum of understanding between the BPS and the Brevard Federation of Teachers would distribute the mileage money in stock to teachers, based on years of service, with entry-level employees receiving an additional $679 per year and employees with 19 years of service. receiving $6,790.01.
Of the 16% allocated to student programs, 60% would go to programs such as career and technical education, performing arts, science and technology, sports, and student enrichment.
The remaining 40% would go to additional staff for schools, particularly early years and student support staff.
The district will also be required to share funds with charter schools, based on enrollment.
The district expects about 11% to 13% to go to charter schools, which are independent of Brevard Public Schools and self-administered but still receive public funds.
Mullins said compensation funding would be distributed proportionately to employee groups, based on how much those groups are currently receiving.
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Concerns about “wage squeeze”
Much of the funding will go towards reducing “wage compression” in the ranks of employees.
Wage squeeze occurs when employees with many years of experience earn roughly the same salaries as new hires, and can make it difficult for employers to retain the best.
Although entry-level teacher salaries have increased under Florida law, Mullins said the average teacher salary has changed very little.
“Your newbie teacher is struggling and probably leaning on that experienced teacher next door for support, but what separates them just in terms of salary at this point is several hundred dollars,” Mullins said.
Mullins said a third-party review of the wage squeeze issue found the problem would likely only be solved with tens of millions of dollars.
Approval of the mileage rate increase would also result in the formation of a Citizens’ Oversight Committee that would meet at least quarterly to review the district’s use of the additional funds.
A similar oversight committee already oversees the district’s use of funds from a half percent sales surcharge to benefit the district, which funds facility, security and technology upgrades. of the BPS.
Voters approved the surtax in 2014, with 57.99% support, and renewed it for another six years in the 2020 election, with 68.56% support.
In the first six years, the district spent $20.8 million on security, $36 million on educational technology, and $196 million on district facilities.
Despite the promised oversight, critics of the district remain reluctant to trust the district to properly spend the money tied to the proposed mileage increase.
“It’s just hard to believe that we don’t have the funds in our $1.4 billion budget to pay our teachers more, to pay our staff more,” said Katie Delaney, a Brevard parent, during a public comment at a school board meeting. “I hope the public will see this lack of transparency, and I hope they will vote ‘no’ on the mileage that is being offered.”
The school board passed a resolution to put the article on the ballot in April in a 4-1 vote.
School board member Matt Susin was the only one to vote against it, telling FLORIDA TODAY after the April 26 meeting that now is “not the right time” to place an additional financial burden on families.
School board member Katye Campbell, who voted to put the measure on the ballot – despite her own stated aversion to tax increases – urged members of the public on Tuesday to review the information that the district has published on a website regarding the mileage rate and to make an informed decision.
“I fully understand that there are people who are just against tax increases for whatever reason, and I respect that,” Campbell said. “I want people to vote according to their convictions, according to their conscience, but I don’t want people to vote for lack of information. … Even with the information, people can still vote no, but it’s part of our democratic process.”
Bailey Gallion is the education reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at 321-242-3786 or [email protected]