EDUCATION

Preserving Our Future

Half-Cent Sales Tax Necessary to Maintain Brevard Public Schools’ Services

by Brian Binggeli

 

We often hear that our school district must live within its means.  I agree.  With this in mind, I offer the following.

 

The average school district in Florida is supported by $526,218 in per-pupil property tax assessments – yet in Brevard, it is only $392,565 per student.  This is because we have so much non-taxed federal land and our decline in property tax assessments over the last three years was among the highest in Florida.

 

If Brevard Public Schools (BPS) received per-student revenue equal to the state average, it would see an increase of over $70 million annually.  The federal government gives us $1.1 million to offset this loss.  Brevard is one of only 12 counties that currently levy no discretionary sales surtax and three of the other 11 had a surtax expire this year.

 

The Florida Department of Education (DOE) notes that BPS district administration is less than half that found in the other 66 Florida districts.  We consistently rank second or third in the state in the percent of our budget spent at schools.  The DOE places our facilities maintenance per square foot expenditure at 60 percent below the state average.  Recently publicized leadership dismissals in this area accentuate our commitment to accountability, not a desire to hide from it.  We have dropped electricity costs from $15.3 million in 2007-2008 to $11.6 million this year.  We have closed schools and re-zoned dozens more, changed bus routes, gone line-by-line through our budget to reduce expenditures, and reduced staff at a higher percentage than our enrollment decline.

 

Through it all, we have remained focused on the mission.

 

Delivering a Quality, Well-Rounded Education

Our kindergarten through 12th grade students experience media services and the arts, which have been cut in many other school districts around the state.  While others scaled back science fairs and robotics we have supported increased student participation in both.  We have never failed to fund class size requirements.

 

Brevard students have no pay-to-play for athletics.  Student lunch prices are among the lowest 10 percent in the state.  We have a multitude of career and technical academy opportunities for students that help them pursue their interests.  BPS pays for an increasing number of students to challenge themselves on rigorous international and college credit or entrance exams – with increasing success.  For every one dollar we spend in that effort we return six dollars to the community in the form of college tuition.  We have more rigorous graduation requirements while maintaining a graduation rate among the highest in Florida.

 

These successes have occurred as our percentage of students receiving free/reduced lunch has increased 49 percent since 2007-08.

 

How can we offer these things to students when others can’t or won’t while being supported with a local tax base among the lowest in the state?  What explains that?  If a private sector organization offered better service to customers at a lower cost we would rightfully applaud their priorities and efficiencies.  As our community is asked to decide whether to preserve these services by trading a quarter-mill property tax for a half-penny sales tax, we hope you recognize ours.

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Dr. Brian Binggeli is superintendent of Brevard Public Schools.