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Of Millage Rate Increases And Term Limits

Tom PattonIt’s been an interesting week for the Duval County School Board.

On Monday, the city’s general counsel released an opinion that members of the school board are not covered by the term limits law approved by voters back in 1992. There were a few members who might have run for a third term or more had they known, but they were all operating under the assumption that they were limited to 8 years on the board.

Board members who had been elected in 1992 were allowed to serve their two full terms, even if that took them beyond the assumed two term limit. So the members who were first elected in 2000 were those who mistakenly thought they had to leave after 8 years. And nobody is sure exactly how this misunderstanding wound up being common knowledge.

In 2002, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that constitutional officers were not bound by the term limit law, but since the school board was not specifically addressed, everyone apparently assumed that since they are locally elected, they were bound by the law.

Not so much.

What does this mean? Well it means that the school board members who thought they had to leave after 8 years have no legal requirement to do so. Some will, no doubt, because that is what voters expected when they were elected. Others may choose to take advantage of the opportunity to serve a third term. And that leaves some candidates who have already announced they would seek seats they thought would be open potentially running against incumbents. It certainly could change their campaign strategy. But perhaps the more interesting question is how this misunderstanding came to be accepted fact. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but what other surprises are lurking in the woodwork?

Well, a millage increase comes to mind.

The school board Tuesday night voted to raise the millage rate one quarter mil, or 25 cents per one thousand dollars of adjusted assessed value. Mary Kelly Palka tweeted that little tidbit of news on Tuesday night. It’s a move estimated to be worth $14-$18 million for the Duval County Public Schools. With an FY2009 school budget of $1.7 billion, which has been called “lean” for years, and with the specter of the class size amendment passed a few years ago causing additional concern, it’s not terribly surprising, and probably restrained.

Two members voted against the increase, five voted in favor.

Like the city, the school board is well under its legal cap, so the board probably did what it thought it had to do.

But it is interesting timing. Finding out one day they are not constrained by term limits, and the next voting for a tax increase. Florida as a whole spends less than nearly every other state on education, and yet every politician runs to be the “Education ________”.

As school budgets continue to be stretched, boards across the state may take the option of raising their millage rates. The good news for Duval County is that our property taxes have been so low that there is room to increase them. The bad news is… it’s a tax increase.

Rock… meet Hard Place.

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