breaking news

Ex-Riviera Beach manager sues city over his firing

PBC schools chief calls for $150 million hike in school property taxes

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy wants to ask voters to raise school property taxes by $150 million a year, a move that could generate an influx of cash for security, mental health services and higher teacher salaries in the county’s public schools.

The high-stakes proposal, more than a year in the making, calls for asking county residents to quadruple a special property tax that pays for extra school services. If school board members approve his plan June 20, the proposal would go to county voters in November.

RELATED: PBC public schools test the waters for another tax hike campaign

Fennoy’s proposal, published online by the school district this week in advance of the June 20 board meeting, comes as little surprise. Last month, district officials made a case to board members for a tax hike, saying that incremental spending increases from state lawmakers haven’t kept up with rising costs and new needs.

“This is kind of the only avenue we have if we want to change the conditions of our school district on the financial front,” Michael Burke, the district’s chief financial officer, said at the May 2 meeting.

But while county residents have a long history of backing special taxes to finance the public schools, the scale of the proposal carries risks for the district.

If voters reject it, the school district will not only miss out on the chance for extra cash, the entire special tax will be eliminated. That would mean a loss of nearly $50 million that the schools depend on each year.

RELATED: The cost of a cop in every school could mean no raises for teachers

Board member Karen Brill warned district officials last month to proceed carefully, saying that “if we ask for too much, we may be risking a whole lot.”

Reached Friday, she said that she had concerns about how the proposed tax hike will be explained to voters. But she said a lack of financial support from state lawmakers left the district with few alternatives.

“I’m not a fan of raising any types of taxes,” she said, “but I think we really are at a juncture where we don’t have any choice.”

Currently, the special property tax, set at $25 per $100,000 of taxable property value, generates almost $50 million a year to pay for more than 650 extra teaching positions in specialized choice programs and arts and music classes.

That’s in addition to the regular school property taxes set jointly by the school board and state lawmakers.

Fennoy’s proposal would raise the rate to $100 per $100,000 of taxable property value, generating $200 million a year.

RELATED: To raise teacher pay, PBC public schools may ask voters to raise taxes

For the owner of a home with a $300,000 appraised taxable value and no exemptions, the increase would mean paying an extra $225 a year in school taxes next year.

With small budget increases from state lawmakers in recent years, school district leaders say teacher salaries have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. Marginal pay raises for teachers have prompted growing numbers of young educators to leave the profession.

At the same time, the Parkland school shooting led to new state requirements to increase the number of officers on school campuses and expand mental health services for students.

The state provided money this year to cover most of the cost of expanding security and mental health, but it did so by removing nearly all new money for regular school expenses.

Quadrupling the extra property tax would let the district create significant salary hikes for teachers as they advance in their teaching careers, Burke said last month.

Teachers entering their fifth year, for instance, might receive an extra $5,000. Teachers entering their 10th year could receive an extra $10,000.

The money also could pay for expanded mental health services and equipment for school police officers.

The increase “will provide necessary funding to expand mental health staff in schools and sustain the growth of the school police force with officers and equipment,” Amity Schuyler, the school district’s chief of staff, said Friday.

While the county’s charter schools face many of the same financial pressures and new security requirements, Fennoy’s proposal would not provide any new tax dollars for charters.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

BREAKING: PBSO says laser 'blinds' helicopter pilots during Lake Worth blackout
BREAKING: PBSO says laser 'blinds' helicopter pilots during Lake Worth blackout

A 33-year-old woman is facing a felony charge for allegedly pointing a green laser at the cockpit of a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that was patrolling Lake Worth early Thursday. A PBSO deputy and his co-pilot were surveying Lake Worth during the six-hour, citywide power outage when city resident Jacqueline Robledo...
Ex-Riviera Beach manager sues city over his firing
Ex-Riviera Beach manager sues city over his firing

Fired city manager Jonathan Evans has sued Riviera Beach and three of its council members, alleging they axed him last September, after six months on the job, because he sought to crack down on sexual misconduct by staffers and improper spending by the council. In a suit filed late last month in federal court in West Palm Beach, Evans alleged the city...
What is selfitis? 5 things to know about the obsessive selfie disorder 
What is selfitis? 5 things to know about the obsessive selfie disorder 

The term "selfitis" may have started off as a hoax back in 2014, but now psychologists have warned it's a genuine mental health issue. Researchers form the Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and Thiagarajar School of Management in India actually investigated the social media phenomenon, leading them to create...
NEW: Man stabbed to death at West Palm senior home, medical examiner says
NEW: Man stabbed to death at West Palm senior home, medical examiner says

As rescue crews wheeled a bloodied 65-year-old out of a senior-living home April 2, the man pointed toward an apartment door.   That’s where the person who stabbed him in the face lived, Mathew Stevens told West Palm Beach authorities.  Stevens died from those stab wounds nearly three weeks later. The Palm Beach...
Suit: Jail keeps teens in solitary for months without care, education
Suit: Jail keeps teens in solitary for months without care, education

One young inmate in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County jail hallucinated, staring at the blank wall of his cell, thinking he was watching a television show, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday alleges. A 16-year-old got his teeth knocked out by deputies after flooding his cell with toilet water when his telephone privileges were cut...
More Stories