Two School Board meetings in Key West ago, I heard freshman Board member Robin Smith-Martin drive home his point that the School Board and the School District and its employees must be unified in doing what is best for the School District; they must do all they can to get the .5 mil school operations tax extended in the January referendum. That was my very first School Board meeting. I didn’t know much about the referendum or School District finances. I then learned a bit after that and became convinced failure of the .5 mil referendum to pass will be Armageddon for the School District, and said so during citizen comments at the more recent School Board meeting in Key West. Robin Smith-Martin, time, and cold facts had won me over. Imagine, therefore, my shock to read the following two Keynoter articles, in which Smith-Martin sure looked to me like he tried to cause the .5 mil referendum to be defeated by holding forth if it did not pass, there could be a .5 mil reduction in taxes. I provided the highlighting.
By SEAN KINNEY
Posted – Wednesday, November 23, 2011 10:15 AM ESTA routine annual organizational meeting of the Monroe County School Board on Tuesday turned into a question-and-answer session with board member Robin Smith-Martin grilling returning Chairman John Dick on his long-term plan for schools operations.
Meeting in Key West, Andy Griffiths was elected to retain his role as vice chairman; board members Duncan Mathewson and Ron Martin were absent.
Smith-Martin focused his questions on what the plan would be if a Jan. 31, referendum asking voters to allow the district to continue transferring more than $9 million from capital to operating funds fails.
“What’s your vision for leadership this time next year come hell or high water?” Smith-Martin asked. “Some of the parents are starting to get worried and some of the employees are starting to get worried about this referendum and where the district is going.”
He repeatedly pressed for “assurance” from Dick that the district could take the financial blow if the referendum fails.
“If you’re not happy with me,” Dick said, “you can vote no. You don’t have to support me as chairman. I’m not giving assurance to anybody.”
Smith-Martin also showed an apparent misunderstanding of the referendum issue and underlying tax mechanism, which, regardless of whether the referendum passes or fails would neither add nor remove any portion of a Monroe County resident’s tax bill.
“If the referendum doesn’t pass,” Smith Martin said, “the capital millage will not be carried over,” so there’s “no need to maintain that level of millage to voters.”
“That’s not right,” Dick came back. “That’s a fallacy.”
He said if the referendum doesn’t pass, the capital money would be used to take the burden off operations by purchasing machinery to replace employees and handle the infrastructure demands of consolidating schools, a likely result of a nearly $10 million budget hit.
“You are punishing the children in the classrooms by voting no on it,” he said. “Nobody’s tax bill is going to change.”
By SEAN KINNEY
Posted – Saturday, November 26, 2011 10:33 AM EST
Much has been made of the financial damage the Monroe County School District would incur if a Jan. 31 referendum allowing the transfer of $9.8 million from capital to operating accounts doesn’t pass.
However, if the measure does fail, Keys property owners’ tax bills could decrease slightly — while district finances would have to be slashed for the second straight year.
Superintendent Jesus Jara has said he’s already planning for at least a $4 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1 — and that includes counting on the $9.8 million transfer to operating expenses.
The current budget is $80 million — down about $9 million from last year.
The account transfer would be valid for four years. The money is raised through a .5 mill levy, which is 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed taxable property value.
If voters don’t approve the move, the School Board would have the option of killing the capital tax — or raising it as high as 1.5 mills.
Board member Robin Smith-Martin broached the subject at a Tuesday board organizational meeting, and clarified his point on Friday.
“If the referendum doesn’t pass, there’s the possibility of a decrease in millage levied as a result,”he said, — adding the caveat that a failed referendum “would only harm students in the classroom.”
Board Chairman John Dick said if the referendum fails, there would be a need to raise capital money to pay for infrastructure related to the consolidation of schools, and to purchase equipment that could replace personnel.
Smith-Martin said that’s true, but the expenses probably would not correspond to the money raised through a maxed-out capital millage.
“It’d definitely need to be scrutinized to develop a potential millage because the uses of the capital money are limited. There’s not a need to maximize the capital millage but we may need to adjust it to compensate.”
Dick said introducing into the dialogue the notion of lower taxes through a failed referendum does not serve the district’s goal of obtaining voter support for the capital transfer.
“That is being irresponsible,” he said, “and I think that’s an attempt to sabotage the half mill. We could change the capital millage down to nothing but no board member came forward and said that.”
Smith-Martin’s remarks re the .5 mil tax perhaps not carrying foward if the referendum fails are about the same as what I heard Audit & Finance Chairman Stuart Kessler and AFC member Larry Murray say at the last AFC meeting in Marathon. I said to the entire meeting that such talk was reckless and could put the referendum in jeopardy if the public got wind of it. I said if the referendum is defeated, there will be no need for an AFC. If I had to hazard a guess, Smith-Martin has been talking with Kessler and Murray. If the referendum fails, Smith-Martin, Kessler and Murray can stand proudly before the public and take their bows.
When John Dick told me about the two Keynoter articles on the phone yesterday, he was seriously upset. When I later spoke with School Board Vice Chairman Andy Griffiths, he was seriously upset. He said he had talked several times with Stuart Kessler, and had tried get Stuart to understand if the referendum does not pass, there will be no tax reductionn because the School Board will convert the .5 mil back to the capital fund, where the .5 mil had gone until John Paget brought the first referendum that was overwhelmingly passed by the voters.
When I later spoke with Todd German yesterday, he was seriously upset and said former School Board John Paget, who got the .5 mil for operations overwhelmingly passed to begin with, was not happy either. The referendum came up again and was overwhelminngly passed. Now it is up again, and this time might be in serious jeopardy.
I told Todd I had called Robin Smith-Martin deadwood in a post recently and to that I now added peckerwood. I said I saw plenty of Smith-Martin at candidate forums last year. I saw he was a self-centered 2-year-old whose image was the most important thing to him. I saw he would say anything he felt would advantage him. I said his tongue should be cut out so he cannot say anything, and his fingers should be cut off so he cannot write or type. Todd knew I had done all I knew to get Barbara Bowers elected last year, and that I remain convinced Barbara would have been elected if a friend of hers, on the eve of the election, had not alienated just enough voters against Barbara to allow Smith-Martin to narrowly win that race.
Let me back up to Andy Griffiths. Here’s part of something I wrote to him yesterday before we talked on the phone.
You seem forted up in defense of the school sports programs.
You want the referendum to have the best chance of passing, you tell everyone you know, if the referendum fails, adios sports programs. That’s the first thing to go. You will get a true sense of Armageddon if you tell them that.
How, Andy, does any educated person, which you are, promote cutting teacher’s salaries if the .5 referendum fails, but keeping sports programs? I can’t wrap my mind around that, and I’m at least as big a sports fan as you are.
And how to you say Keys teachers are the highest paid in Florida, without saying their costs of living are the highest in Florida, and on balance, they probably aren’t paid any better than, if as well as, mainland teachers? And if they get those level of salary cuts you predict, they will keep teaching in the Keys, where their high living expenses will stay the same?
The very last thing that needs to happen is to lose good teachers, or to put good teachers under financial stress, which will bleed straight into their classroom teaching and relations with their students, and into their personal lives, and back into their classrooms. Protect the good teachers, they are easy to spot: look at their students’ behavior and learning statistics. Let the other teachers go
When Andy called me about that, he said how important band and swimming had been to his children. I said I understood that, but teachers are more important. Teachers are the lifeblood of the school system. You cut their pay last, after all other possible cuts have been made. And you lead off promoting passage of the .5 mil referendum by telling everyone you know that school sports, football and every other sport, will be the first to go if the .5 referendum does not pass. I said that needs to be in the newspapers. The public needs to have all the information to know what the consequences of their vote will be. The same full-disclosure argument Robin Smith-Martin, Stuart Kessler and Larry Murray are using to justify their position.
I then gave the same sermon to John Dick on the telephone, and the same sermon to Todd German. I said it is dirty, but this is a football game and either you win or lose it. There is no way to play nice and win. Fear of their hearts being ripped out must be instilled in the voters, so if they defeat the .5 mil referendum, the only people they came blame are themselves, Robin Smith-Martin, Stuart Kessler and Larry Murray. I told Todd, if I were John Dick and the .5 mil referendum failed, I would resign from the School Board because my services no longer were needed or appreciated. Then, I said I would go even farther than that if I were John Dick. I would tell the voters now, if they don’t pass the .5 mil referendum, I will resign from the School Board. Before pulling the lever, the voters need to know the full consequences of voting against the referendum. Imagine a School Board without John Dick looking after things. Imagine a School Board with Robin Smith-Martin looking after things.
Todd was Special Forces. He got involved in some pretty rough stuff in Central America. Outside, he is gentlemanly. Inside, I imagine he is a stone killer, in the jungle. It’s different in the city and county, where cultural upbringing and social and business friendships and alliances influence thinking and behavior. However, Todd agreed the School Board needs to tell the public: if the .5 mil referendum fails, starting with school sports, everything unnecessary to educating children will go before teachers’ pay is cut; teachers’ pay cuts will be minimized to the extent possible. Todd seemed to have more trouble with John Dick announcing he will resign if the referendum fails. John Dick might have a problem with that. He might have a problem with school sports being the the first to go. He will have a hell of a lot bigger problem if the referendum fails. He will have a school system full of very upset teachers looking after children, which any mental health worker will tell you is a really bad idea.
If you can’t make those kinds of tough calls, if you cannot play dirty to protect the school system and the teachers and the kids, you should not be on the School Board. If you are worried about losing friends and business alliances, you should not be on the School Board. If you are not a stone killer, you should not be on the School Board. If you are against the .5 mil referendum, you are an idiot or a heartless bastard, or both. Better to home school kids, than send them to a school where their teachers are enraged thanks in no small part to Robin Smith-Martin, Stuart Kessler and Larry Murray. And thanks to School Board members and school officials not being willing to make school sports the first to go if the .5 mil referendum failed. On the School Board’s and the Superintendent’s heads it all will fall if they don’t play dirty to get the referendum passed for the kids. That’s right, folks – it’s the kids, not the adults, not even the teachers, who will bear the real brunt of the referendum failing. The people who do not play dirty to protect the kids should be run out of town with pitchforks after being tarred and feathered and set on fire.
I usually can be reached at email@example.com, but today I’m in Arizona searching for arrowheads.