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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with Brevard School Board member Karen Henderson

Karen henderson In trying to give Florida school districts funding flexibility, the Legislature allowed school boards to increase their local property tax rates for one year to pay for critical operating needs. Brevard County was the first to agree to impose such a tax. Board member Karen Henderson spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about how she came to support higher school taxes even in the down economy.

Who made the recommendation to go forward with the tax idea?

The superintendent.

And what was his rationale?

He gave us two budgets. One without the quarter mill that would require cutting quite a few positions. And one with the quarter mill that would be able save positions and to continue the education that we're giving our children.

So was it basically a no-brainer for you guys?

Not necessarily. My first instinct is to not raise taxes. However, when you look at the big picture and you see, you know there's a cliff out there when this stimulus goes away, you know you've got class size coming on. I'm just not sure it was a wise decision to cut positions now, when we've got class size coming on and we'd have to rehire to fill those positions. ... It was a hard decision. I went through and I looked at both budgets. Neither one of those would be set in stone. We don't make those decisions until July 25th. But they gave us a base line of what the numbers would look like.

When you look, according to the property appraiser, property values are going to be declining and there's going to be less taxes on most houses anyway. The difference was miniscule per household. I have the numbers here if you want to know. And even if they didn't decline it wasn't going to be that much of an increase.

(Pauses to look up documents)

Okay. According to the numbers we got, on a $100,000 home without the .25 the taxes with no change in assessed value would have been $15.15 less.

Not a big deal, then, perhaps?

Right.

Do you feel like the school district should be making the call? The way the Legislature has been running things, they set everybody's tax rate to the point where you're not allowed to raise it. Now suddenly it's like they don't want to make the decision, so you have to.

Right. Well, I don't think there was a choice at this point. We don't know where they're going to find -- or if they're going to find -- money in the future. And this is only good, it will go to the people for a vote to see if they want to keep it in place. But it gave us the opportunity to maintain what we have for one more year.

What do you think about the Legislature putting you in the position of making that decision?

Well, I'm assuming they did the best they could do. I would have preferred that they come up with a direct source of funding for education. But, it is what it is now.

Do you think this is the first step toward more local control of the schools?

I hope it's not a first step to more local funding. I wish we did have more control over some of the things that we're mandated by the state to do. We have a huge problem coming with the class size amendment. Just in this district alone they have decided it would take another 900 teachers to meet class size. And that's next year, the year after the next school year. Who's going to pay for those teachers? Where are we going to get the money? So again, the source of funding is what's missing here.

So what do you tell other school board members when they call you and ask, 'How do you justify this to your voters? How do you tell people from the community without them getting angry?'

Do you mean from other districts?

Yeah. Say somebody from Miami or wherever calls you up.

Well, ultimately I was elected to make the decision. I always do my homework. I pondered over it, I looked over it, I did my homework. And I felt that this is the best decision. And people are going to be angry over it. I'd probably be angry too, if I was one of them. But knowing where we're at, I just felt it was the right decision. You just have to live with that and let the chips fall.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:24am]

    

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