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Ocala
Monday, November 14, 2022

Resident shares thoughts on school tax referendum, academic performance

To the Editor:

The campaign opposing the school tax referendum was unconvincing to a large segment of November voters. However, that will not deter the opponents from continuing to pursue it, ensuring that parents receive a better education for their children and a more productive use of a huge property tax allocation to public schools.

Some residents and organizations are joining together to become “watchdogs” of local school board accountability and transparency. Importantly, also expanding communications with parents and taxpayers about the realities of local education.

Additionally, the recent elections have assured a state legislature with education as a major plank in next year’s legislative session agenda. With a supermajority in the house and senate, for the first time in a decade, it paves the way for some actions that will expedite and improve the legislative process.

Two areas of legislative education concentration will be: 1) 100% universal school choice, and 2) increasing the budget accountability of school boards. Both will be very important in the quest to improve the quality and effectiveness of education that local parents and taxpayers pay for and deserve.

At the local level, we should insist the school board and superintendent deliver on specific goals that are reasonable with the district having sufficient funding from the tax referendum. Additionally, the employment in 2020 of a well-paid ($210,000 plus bonuses) chief executive officer caliber superintendent the board promised would improve the district.

The goals are straight forward, realistic, and easily measured:

  1. A state grade of “A” for our district for two continuous years of the next four.
  2. Restore the Florida school district rating to at least 31st (our 2007-08 rating) out of 67 districts versus the current 58th by the end of 2026. Rating determined by the independent and comprehensive “SchoolDigger.com” (Florida District School Ratings) that has been the standard for the district over the years.
  3. A budget that increases annually by no more than the average percentage increase in the budgets overseen by the Marion County Board of County Commissioners and Ocala City Council.

The city and county units are like the school district in budget size and complexity. They should be the gold standard of good budget management for what is about to be, with two new members, a relatively financially inexperienced school board.

The 12 years, ending with the recently renewed referendum, should be long enough to affect a significant improvement in the performance/quality of our local education system.

Stan Hanson
Ocala resident