BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
A yes vote came from the Daytona Beach City Commission Aug. 6 joining Port Orange, New Smyrna Beach and Ormond Beach in support of a half-cent extension sales tax for Volusia County Schools set to go to the ballot Aug. 26.
The voters ultimately will decide if they want to extend the county’s half-cent sales tax after it expires at the end of 2016.
“It is vital to making us more attractive,” Volusia County School Board Member Ida Wright told the Daytona Times following Wednesday night’s meeting. “When people move here, they always say ‘tell me about your schools.’”
Not a new tax
The tax that supporters reiterate is not new but only an extension is expected to generate $480 million over 15 years. Of that total, $135 million would be spent on technology upgrades going toward each school in the Volusia County School System.
“Right now, part of that extension goes toward security and technology. If we want to be competitive and we want to compete on a global scale, we have to have the technology,” Wright explained.
“Currently we do not have the technology. I heard today that you change technology every three years. No, really you change it every 18 months. A really good school system changes it every three to five years. Right now we are unable to be in that cycle. We would love to be able to change every five years and eventually get to every three. That is how you remain competitive.”
Keep kids safe
“Number two, there is security,” Wright continued. “When you look at Sandy Hook and you look at some of the other things that have happened on other school campuses, we want to make sure that doesn’t happen here. It can happen anywhere. You can’t do anything about crazy, however we want to make sure we have every safeguard in place so that when we send our children to school, we feel safe. That we know we have done everything humanly possible to make our children and the learning environment safe.
“We didn’t come up with the list, we came up with a citizens group and the citizens group identified what they felt our community needed. That is why I think we have so much support. We desperately need it,” Wright concluded.
A citizens’ capital needs committee met September 2013 through January 2014 to identify the capital needs of the school district in the areas of safety/security, technology and facilities. The committee recommended a Capital Projects List to the school board, which was approved in February.
A similar committee was established when the half-cent sales tax was approved by voters in 2001 for an aggressive 10-year building program. During the period between January 2002 and June 2012, the oversight committee met regularly to review, inspect and evaluate the progress to make sure the district kept its promise to the taxpayers of Volusia County.
If the tax is approved, plans also call for replacing five schools (Chisholm Elementary in New Smyrna Beach, Deltona Middle, George Marks Elementary in DeLand, Pierson Elementary and Tomoka Elementary in Ormond Beach) at a cost of $111 million. More than a dozen other schools would receive significant renovations at a cost of $100 million.
Lentz, White oppose
Support for the half-cent sales tax came at a five-two vote at the commission meeting with Commissioners Carl Lentz and Kelly White voting against it. The commissioners made it clear that they support the extension but that it is up to the individual to choose whether he or she will support it at the ballot and not for the city commission to tell people how to vote.
According to the Volusia County Schools’ website, some important information for voters to know about the extension are as follows:
The half-cent voter approved sales tax can only be used for capital (facilities, technology), not general operating (salaries, instructional materials).
As with the 2001 half-cent sales tax, a citizens project oversight committee will be established to monitor the school district’s work.
The extension will raise an estimated $480 million.
If approved, this extension will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017 for a 15-year term.
If the half-cent extension is approved by voters, a citizens oversight committee will be appointed to provide oversight for the funds that will be directed to facilities, technology and safety/security.