SUPPORTING SCHOOLS

The issue: Counties around Florida pass special school tax measures.

Our opinion: Citrus needs to step up and be one of them too.

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Just what is the cost of education?

It’s hard to exactly measure, but voters around the state of Florida have at least figured out one thing: It costs more than what the state allocates to school districts.

This election cycle, counties across Florida passed measures enacting special school taxes to cover the cost of funding the local education system. Pinellas, Alachua, Clay, Okaloosa and others all saw the need for increased taxpayer support to fund critical things like school counseling programs, teacher salaries, construction and maintenance, technology and basic equipment, literacy and library initiatives,  technical education programs, the arts and more.

Both Pinellas and Alachua captured around 80% of voter support in their referendums, and about two-thirds of residents in Hernando backed a tax increase. Some counties opted for a school tax increase and others for school sales taxes.

Yet, Citrus had nothing on the ballot in the last election to pad the budget for public education.

Most of those counties who presented special tax measures had them pass, and with flying colors. So, why hasn’t Citrus done the same thing? As a community, do we not support additional funding to education when the legislature fails to adequately fill the coffers?

News recently outlined that the Citrus County School District wasn’t able to meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mandate to raise minimum teacher salaries to $47,000 without crippling the district’s budget. The state did not send enough money down the chute to sufficiently cover those increases so benevolently ordered, and unfortunately, “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Unless school board leaders approve reallocating funds from their already over constricted budget, additional salary improvements and the enhancement of basic and critical district programs will most likely not happen.

This week’s Chronicle online poll asks readers what area is enough need of additional investment to pass a special tax in Citrus, and voters have enthusiastically said the greatest need is increasing pay — helping educators and district staff earn a living wage. Poll voters also say the district could use a boost providing mental health services to students, keeping up with construction and maintenance, and supporting the arts and technology.

It's time for the voters of Citrus to get with the times, and like their fellow Floridian, back the additional taxpayer support to education, whether through a slight sales tax, property tax increase or some other mild measure to help. 

Citrus leaders need to form a strategy to market and sell a referendum campaign to educate voters on the needs of the school district, and voice outwardly that if the district is going to adequately meet Gov. DeSantis’ pay mandate, stay competitive with surrounding school districts in hirings, fund construction/maintenance and other well-rounded educational initiatives, aid is greatly needed.