ORLANDO, Fla. – On Aug. 23, voters in Orange County will decide where to keep a special property tax to prop up school programs.
Orange County Public Schools is asking voters to keep a 1 mill ad valorem property tax, first approved in 2010, to fund everything from support staff to art teachers to class field trips.
“It is an absolutely critical component,” school board member Pam Gould said. “It’s really the component that’s allowed our arts to not only continue, but blossom. We have arts in every single school, athletic programs, programs in STEAM and STEAM that are really essential to keeping kids engaged in their education.”
OCPS school board chair Teresa Jacobs called the funding critical.
“This is what it takes to operate our schools everyday,” Jacobs said. “Almost 10% of that budget goes away if this tax is not renewed.”
The tax was first approved in 2010. It was renewed in 2014 and 2018.
“This isn’t about increasing their taxes. It’s just about keeping them where they are,” Jacobs said.
The tax is $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The county says that for a home appraised at $265,000, it works out to a $20 a month tax.
OCPS says that tax is essential. The district says that while the Florida Legislature has increased funding for new teachers, it has not provided enough funding for teacher retention and support staff. It also says that, when accounting for inflation, the state is actually lagging in per-student funding behind 2007-2008 levels.
In 2021, the district says the tax raised more than $161 million for the school district.
“The funding is indispensable to us,” Jacobs said.
If the tax is discontinued, it would lead to a budget cut of $177 million, starting with next school year in 2023.
“That is essential for being able to staff these buildings and our school buses and our cafeterias and our cleaning crew,” Gould said. “Without that supplement that we get from that one mil, we would definitely lose all of our staff to other industries and the Great Resignation and reshuffle, because we just are not able to compete with the market in the same way and that one mil allows that to happen.”
In 2021, the school district says it spent:
- Nearly $86 million of that money in 2021 on career and college readiness programs, teachers, counselors and social workers
- $54.9 million on arts programs
- $7.7 million on athletics
- $195,698 on field trips and after-school tutorials
- $12.6 million on charter schools
The Orange County school district is the ninth largest in the country and the fourth largest in Florida.
Here is the ballot language for the ballot question:
BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the School Board of Orange County, Florida, continue the current one (1) mill ad valorem millage for essential operating expenses, including compensating teachers and support staff, preserving academic programs, arts, athletics, and student activities, beginning July 1, 2023, and ending four (4) fiscal years later on June 30, 2027, shared proportionately with charter schools as legally required, with annual reporting to ensure proper fiscal stewardship of these funds to the citizens of Orange County?
A “yes” vote means the voter supports the tax, and a “no” vote means the voter does not support it.
Jacobs knows families are struggling to make ends meet following the COVID-19 pandemic and the highest inflation rate in four decades. But she said she’s confident voters will continue supporting public education.
“We just need their continued support, or it’s going to have a very severe impact on our school district, which means it’s going to have a very severe impact on our stuents,” Jacobs said.
Early voting runs now through Aug. 21 in Orange County. To find a list of early voting locations, head to the News 6 Primary Election voter guide.
The primary election is on Aug. 23.