Palm Beach County public schools are preparing a big-ticket marketing push to educate voters about a proposed property tax increase on the ballot in November, one that would raise teacher salaries and provide extra school security.
With three months until county residents vote on the proposal, school board members on Wednesday voted to spend up to $372,000 for a political consultant to advertise about the tax hike on radio, TV and online.
School district officials say state law prevents them from advocating for the tax referendum’s approval, but they hope that providing information about its benefits will help voters understand the value of a “yes” vote.
“These won’t be political advertisements,’ said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer. “This will be educational outreach, explaining the potential benefits, what safeguards will be in place.”
The tax referendum asks county residents to quadruple a special property tax that pays for extra school services, raising the money received each year from about $50 million to $200 million. The tax increase would last for four years if approved.
All told, political consultant Rick Asnani will earn $60,000 to spearhead the school district’s marketing campaign, including $25,000 he was paid already for research and polling prior to the decision to seek the tax hike.
The vote gave Asnani’s company, Cornerstone Solutions Florida, approval to spend up to $200,000 to advertise about the tax proposal in traditional media, including TV, radio and newspapers, and another $102,000 for online advertising.
An additional $35,000 would be spent on “community outreach” under Asnani’s proposal.
Asnani, a veteran political strategist, has assisted the school board with marketing efforts for previous tax referendums, but he said this is the first time he has been paid to do so.
“We did our work for free and there was no contract,” he said. “I’ve never been paid for any of that, by any public agency.”
The school board’s move to pay for a large marketing campaign underscores the high stakes for the school district.
The special tax in question, which property owners would pay in addition to regular school property taxes, has been in place for decades but has to be re-approved by voters this year.
Hoping for an influx of money, the district wants to quadruple the tax rate, from $25 per $100,000 of taxable property value to $100 per $100,000 of taxable property value.
For the owner of a home with a $300,000 appraised taxable value and no exemptions, that would mean an extra $225 a year in school taxes next year.
If approved, the district would spend $100 million to raise salaries for veteran teachers, $50 million to pay for extra security and mental health services at schools and the other $50 million to continue paying for 650 teaching positions.
But if voters reject it, the school district will lose the $50 million it depends on today to pay for more than 650 teaching positions.
The county’s charter schools would not receive a portion of the proceeds.
“What it means to the district is $800 million over the next four years,” Burke said. “It’s wise for the school district to make the investment to make sure the community is well informed before (the vote).”
The referendum will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Be informed. Be educated.
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