Pass the School Board Referendum for Our Kids

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay

The School Board referendum is an important part of Sarasota County Schools success. The Argus Foundation has long supported the School Board referendum, and even today, endorses the passage of the referendum. History is an important indicator of why we are a successful district and what will happen if we do not pass this referendum. 

The first voter-approved millage referendum was in 1994 after a challenge to an attempt of the School Board to collect an extra unvoted millage. The next vote would occur in 2000. In 2000, the School Board was in turmoil due to an unpopular Superintendent and accusations of extravagant spending. 

The School Board referendum failed in a 2-1 ratio in a July 2000 vote. Sarasota County Schools were sent into a financial downward spiral which was only magnified the following year by economic devastation from the horrible terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after the failed vote, the superintendent at that time resigned.

The Argus Foundation under the leadership of Executive Director Kerry Kirshner, partnered with newly appointed Superintendent of Schools Wilma Hamilton to restore financial trust in the community. Argus, The Venice Foundation (now Gulf Coast Community Foundation), The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and The Selby Foundation funded an important $50,000 study by SchoolMatch titled, “School System Financial Analysis.”

Superintendent Hamilton, who was wildly popular, was instrumental in inviting the study and asking the public for help and input. She wanted an objective assessment of the finances of the school system and she knew it was a pivotal moment for our district. What emerged was a report that according to SchoolMatch, in a 2002 editorial, “…documents the struggle of the Sarasota County school district to maintain a high-quality school system...”

According to a Feb. 16, 2001 article in the Herald-Tribune, the school district cut $17 million from its budget in the summer of 2000, cutting 100 teaching jobs and inflated class sizes by five students on average. The School Board would be forced to take away another $10 million that year, and that was the dollar figure before 9/11 occurred.

After the cuts and layoffs, the review team from SchoolMatch independently confirmed what we hear will happen today if the referendum is not passed, “The quality of educational programs will be dramatically affected by the continuing need to reduce budgetary expenses: examples include increasing class size to an even greater degree and elimination of entire student programs.”

It was that study that led to the passage of the School Board referendum in March of 2002.

In light of COVID-19 and the amount that our kids have suffered in their education over the past two years, we need to make sure we are properly funding education and helping students achieve now more than ever. This referendum is needed.

To be very clear, The Argus Foundation does not condone the recent actions of the strong majority of the School Board in limiting public input and the concerted intentional maneuvers to silence parents and taxpayers. We have advocated for School Board transparency for years and the School Board should be spending more time on student achievement and listening to the community rather than combating it.

However, we do realize that the School Board referendum is not the place to express those frustrations. Our members will individually be doing that in a different vote in August and November of this year while voting in the three School Board races up for election, and you should express your frustrations then too. More to follow.

Right now, The Argus Foundation endorses the passage of the School Board referendum and encourages the public to support and vote for the extra millage to maintain quality education in Sarasota County.          

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

Image courtesy Pixabay

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