SEBRING — Superintendent Wally Cox believes teachers will play a key role in the School Board of Highlands County’s effort to promote and get the vote out for a half-cent sale tax referendum in the general election Nov. 4.
Cox has spoken about the referendum with many of the teachers in the district’s teacher support group - ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching.)
“They have agreed to assist us with other staff,” he said at a recent school board meeting.
During his preschool meetings prior to the start of the school year, Cox said he plans to have teachers speak to other faculty about the half-cent referendum.
“I am going with them, but I think it might be more effective with teachers talking to other teachers and to other support employees,” he said.
Some of the efforts to promote the sales tax referendum will start in the fall “when everybody is back,” Cox said.
They would start “gearing up in August” after the primary election when voters will decide on extending the county’s one-cent sales tax, which will expire in 2019, but will be extended until Dec. 31, 2034 if voters give the OK.
Cox said he provided school board members with a letter from the county commission, which shows the county was not trying to “trump” the school board.
Cox said he has a couple meetings scheduled with business people, but stressed: “I am not sure if I can run this campaign by myself.”
Some school districts have a public relations department that would lead an effort like this, he said, but here it will have to be a team effort.
“I will try to organize the teachers’ presentations; I will try to organize the parents, but I am open to ideas,” Cox said.
The district will have between 80 and 90 new teachers and support employees in the coming year, with many coming from out of state, he said.
“We could get them registered,” to vote and check with the Supervisor of Elections about having someone register voters at the district’s new teacher orientation, Cox said.
If approved, the half-cent sales tax would generate about $4.2 to $4.5 million annually, which would be used for major projects and purchases such as new construction.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said Monday the district’s next two building projects would be new classrooms wings at Lake Country and Park elementary schools.
Six to eight classrooms likely would be built at both schools, similar to the classroom additions that were built at Cracker Trail and Sun ‘N Lake elementary schools, he said. That would bring the schools up to a capacity of 700.
Park Elementary will have classes in seven portables and Lake Country is adding one portable, bringing its total to four classroom portables, Averyt said.
The Lake Country Elementary project would be first, but he is not sure when it would be built, noting that if approved, the half-cent sales tax would be collected over a 15-year period.
Cox noted that with a sales tax, “everybody would pay a little bit and it takes some pressure off of the people who are paying ad valorem taxes.”
This is the school district’s wish list for the half-cent sales tax referendum proposal:
New technology and computers for the district’s 17 schools.
New school buses.
To build classrooms at Lake Country and Park elementary schools.
To improve school safety and security.
School renovations and maintenance.