School board member blasts plan to share sales-tax money with museums

A Palm Beach County School Board member criticized his colleagues Wednesday for considering surrendering part of the public school system’s share of a proposed sales tax increase to private museums and cultural organizations.

Two school board members last week endorsed foregoing more than $200 million in potential money for school repairs, letting a consortium of cultural groups use it for their own private projects instead.

That proposal is part of a deal being negotiated by the school board, the county government and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County to split the proceeds from a 1-penny sales tax increase that they are expected to ask voters to consider in November.

But board member Mike Murgio said he was troubled by the notion of accepting less than half of the proceeds, since the school system would be entitled to receive an entire half-cent if it sought a sales tax increase on its own.

“I am really having a problem understanding how we as a board can do that when we know that we have so many needs that need to be filled,” Murgio said at a school board meeting Wednesday.

The school district says the county’s schools need more than $1 billion to take care of postponed maintenance to buildings and to update classroom technology.

But the Cultural Council is lobbying school board members to join forces with them, the county government and the county’s municipalities.

The catch: Under the Cultural Council’s proposal, public schools would get only 40 percent of a 1-cent sales tax increase, or an estimated $912 million over 10 years. Going it alone, the schools could receive an estimated $1.1 billion.

Saying that his remarks were “probably not going to make me the most popular person in Palm Beach County,” Murgio questioned board members’ support for the Cultural Council’s plan.

“Last week I heard my fellow board members ready to give up 20 percent of the funding that we could generate through a sales tax,” he said.

At a meeting last week, board Vice Chairman Frank Barbieri and board member Debra Robinson announced their support for the Cultural Council’s proposal, arguing that students would benefit regardless because many visit museums and other cultural centers around the county.

Responding to Murgio’s comments Wednesday, they made the same point.

“If you look at the fact that (the cultural centers) are providing educational activities, we’re not really giving up the money if the Cultural Council gets some of it,” Barbieri said.

Superintendent Robert Avossa said that he is negotiating with county officials for the school district to receive more than 40 percent, but he said it wasn’t clear whether county officials would agree to let the school district keep half of the windfall.

“That would be the best-case scenario,” he said. “Might we have to compromise a little? Yeah, we might.”

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