- Tax would fund arts programs, help improve teacher salaries, school safety, mental health resources
- All money in the Palm Beach County School District is overseen by independent groups
Early results on Election Day lean heavily toward maintaining a special property tax that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year for the Palm Beach County public school.
On Tuesday, voters answered “yes” or “no” when asked if they should keep the tax for another four years, beyond its current June 30 expiry.
With 514 of 794 precincts reporting, about 74% of voters supported the tax while 26% rejected its pursuit. This includes all early voting results and most mail voting results.
The tax, which equals $1 for every $1,000 of a home’s assessed value, funds arts programs and helps improve teacher pay, school safety and mental health resources.
Between July 2021 and June, district-operated schools and charter schools shared more than $225 million in tax revenue.
Charter schools, which are public schools with fewer regulations and more autonomy, have received about 12% of the money since last year, after a lawsuit forced the district to start revenue sharing .
The share of charter schools is determined by their number of enrolled students, and their entitlement to a portion of additional tax revenue is now enshrined in law.
And all public schools, including charter schools, must align their spending with the voter-approved referendum.
How do schools in Palm Beach County spend the additional property tax?
Here is how schools used their money during the last fiscal year:
- Teacher compensation: District-run schools spent $117 million and charters spent about $7 million on supplements to raise teacher salaries.
- fine arts: District-operated schools spent $58 million and charters spent about $6.7 million to fund elementary-level art, music, and physical education teachers, as well as curriculum teachers magnets and professional academies.
- Mental Health: District-run schools spent $17.2 million and charters spent $1.4 million on mental health positions, including school counselors, psychologists and crisis response teams crisis.
- Security: District-operated schools spent $16.2 million and charters spent $2.8 million on school safety. This includes new equipment, school event security and funding for several positions including school police officers, police aides and school safety monitors.
During that time, more than 30,000 students received mental health services through the levy, said Heather Frederick, the district’s chief financial officer.
And since this year, more than 11,700 teachers receive an annual supplement, which varies from $1,000 to $10,000 depending on the number of years of service they have.
Another 700 teachers have less than a year of service and are not yet eligible for payment.
Tax revenues add to a multi-billion dollar budget
If a continuation is approved, the levy is expected to generate about $275 million — $240 million for district-operated schools and $35 million for charters — in the current fiscal year, which began May 1. July.
This money is included in the neighborhood budget $4.97 billion in local taxes, state funding and federal grants.
Some critics of the voter-approved tax have pointed to the massive budget, arguing that district leaders need to spend more wisely, not collect more taxes.
In a recent interview, the district’s chief financial officer said the base budget covers only the basic educational needs of Palm Beach County, the 10th largest school district in the United States.
But to provide competitive teacher salaries, make schools safer and provide fine arts and other specialty programs, she said, the district needs additional support.
How does the Palm Beach County School District budget work?
The district budget is divided into several pots of money which are often limited by law to certain uses.
The general fund, which includes voter-approved tax revenues, as well as other local funds and state funding, totals $2.56 billion.
This money is used to fund day-to-day operations: employee salaries and benefits, building utilities, transportation, textbooks, and other day-to-day needs.
The special revenue fund totals more than $661 million from a multitude of local, state and federal sources.
This money is for school lunches, COVID-19 recovery efforts and special programs, such as those for students with disabilities and students from low-income families.
The capital projects fund, worth approximately $1.4 billion, is used for land purchases, new construction, building renovations and routine maintenance.
This includes more than $100 million annually from the 1 cent sales tax increase which voters approved in 2016. The sales tax can only be used to fund school repairs and renovations, classroom technology, and district vehicles such as school buses.
The latest pot of money, worth more than $340 million, is being used to pay interest and principal on long-term debt associated with big projects, such as building new schools.
Who holds the school district accountable?
All the district money is supervised by independent groups.
This includes the Budget Advisory Committee, which makes budget recommendations to the school board, as well as the Audit Committee, which oversees the district’s accounting practices and financial reporting.
It also includes the Independent Sales Surtax Oversight Committee, which oversees revenue collected through the 1-cent sales tax increase.
And the Independent Referendum Oversight Committee would continue to oversee property tax revenue if voters approve a continuation on Tuesday.