The average West Boca family of four will pay an additional $12,000 over ten years if the proposed sales tax increase is approved. These estimates follow from the numbers stated by speakers at Tuesday’s West Boca Community Council meeting.
Four speakers addressed the audience (note we covered a similar event in February: Avossa and Berger Speak). First up was County Administrator Verdenia Baker. Substantial details of the plan are available on the One County One Penny website.
Like the three speakers after her, Baker was tone deaf to West Boca residents. In her talk she described how the money that would come to “your area” but a closer look showed she was including all of Boca, Delray and Boynton Beach in that area. She also referred to money going to the City of Boca Raton as in “our area” even though most of West Boca is west of the city lines.
Baker indicated that the total amount of revenue they expect to raise from this tax increase is $2.7 billion. In our analysis, with 1.3 million county residents that works out to over $2000 per resident. For a family of four it’s $8000. With average incomes in West Boca higher than for the county, it translates to roughly $12,000 over the ten years. A typical West Boca family of four will spend an extra $1000 on sales tax in the first year, with the number rising to $1500 or more in later years.
Fifty percent of the money from the tax will go to the school district, thirty percent to the county and twenty percent to the cities.
She described a lengthy list of projects that the money is supposed to go to. We have seen this list before and over half the money goes to projects in West Palm Beach. A very small share will benefit West Boca.
Baker briefly answered questions from us toward the end of the event:
The next speaker was Mike Burke, CFO for the school district. He also described various “needs” in the district. To his credit he started off with a funny joke about the jail and he spoke well. But as with the other speakers he was somewhat tone deaf, focusing on projects far from West Boca and apparently not recognizing the difference between the city and the rest of us.
Our post-event conversation with him is below. It became a little uncomfortable in certain moments but we give him credit for his demeanor and his answers.
As a follow up to this conversation we found the report he mentioned. Contrary to what he said the document does not say that projects will be prioritized by need. That may be the intent but it’s not in there.
Also the report’s descriptions do not match the apocalyptic tone set by Superintendent Avossa, Burke and others.
Finding #3: Of the 196 District schools and facilities assessed, the elementary schools are generally in fair condition (average FCI=15.2%), the middle schools are generally in good condition (average FCI = 13.1%), the high schools are generally in good condition (average FCI = 14.9%), and the ancillary facilities are generally in fair condition (average FCI = 23.1%). The overall District FCI average is 15.0%, which is in the “good” range, but borders on the “fair” range, which begins at 15.1%.
Finally with regard to the schools it should be noted that none of this money will go to hiring teachers or paying them more. It’s only for capital projects.
Next up was Sid Dinerstein, a long-time county Republican leader. After the two previous speakers took a full hour or more, Dinerstein was told he would only have 10 minutes. Dinerstein was also ignored when the event host announced various attendees and left him out.
Dinerstein was by far the most animated and interesting speaker of the four. We caught a brief clip of his speech but he had already left when we looked for him to answer questions at the end.
Dinerstein pointed out that the so-called “penny tax” is a 17 percent increase – from 6 percent to 7 percent. He dismissed the claimed needs asserted by the previous speakers and said the school district is “grossly overfunded”.
He suggested that the main needs of the county are really closer to $400 million rather than the $2.7 billion they are hoping to get from the sales tax increase. Dinerstein argued that it would make more sense to do a $400M bond issue with today’s low interest rates.
Dinerstein demonstrated the same disregard for the West Boca audience. Standing within arm’s reach of Ellen Winikoff he advocated for an extension of the Sawgrass Expressway from Broward into Palm Beach County, an idea that is widely hated here in West Boca. In describing the projects he viewed as necessary they all seemed to be in West Palm Beach, so his approach would do even less for West Boca residents.
The last speaker was Dave Kerner, a state representative who is now running for a county commission seat. He claimed (as did Baker) that 25% of the sales tax would be paid by tourists. If true that only adds to the burden imposed by the recently increased hotel tax to pay for a stadium in – where else – West Palm Beach. They seem unconcerned about or unaware of the risk of killing the goose that lays our golden eggs. If you raise taxes on tourism, tourists might come less often. He also repeated Mary Lou Berger’s February threat to raise property taxes if the sales tax increase is not passed.
Some other interesting details from the evening were:
The Lamborghini exemption – Baker said that the sales tax is capped at purchases under $5000, so if you buy a Lamborghini you won’t pay extra sales tax on most of that purchase.
Kerner and Baker both denied that sales tax is regressive. This is contrary to well established economic studies showing that sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.
Taniel Shant, who is running against Mary Lou Berger, was in the audience. Shant opposes the sales tax increase.
In other news there has been some talk about developers buying the Boca Municipal Golf Course (north side of Glades west of the Turnpike) and building homes. Nothing has happened yet.
The proposal to build on the farm behind Home Depot is apparently making progress and may possibly resemble Delray Marketplace.
A new park or children’s playground has been built in Watergate Estates (aka West Sandalfoot) and will have a grand opening soon.
There has been an ongoing problem with trucks parking on swales on 66th Street (SW 66th we think) and PBSO is working to stop that.
When we published our story about the proposed sales tax increase, we asked several elected officials and others for comment. So far this is the only response, from Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth of the City of Boca Raton.
There’s a move afoot to address the need for additional cash by tweaking the sales tax. For reasons I will discuss, below, I cannot support the proposals, as they are being negotiated between various entities.
While truth be told, there are many ways the new money could be spent that is the crux of my concern about creating this new revenue stream. No matter how many times we are told the money will be spent in a well thought out fashion, my mind harkens back to the same arguments made when the Florida Lottery was first proposed.
The Lottery was “sold” to the voters as a way to ensure the education of our children. Who could possibly argue against enough funding for our children to receive the best education possible? Unfortunately, the new funds arrived, as promised, but the funds originally earmarked for education were quietly redistributed to other budget priorities.
Thus, education and the institutions built for its delivery have not seen the benefits of all this new Lottery money. Nobody bothered to ensure the prior levels of funding were maintained or, for that matter, increased, as would have been the case absent the Lottery funding. So now we’re coming back to the voters with another opportunity to ensure enough funds to educate our children.
So excuse me if I do not believe a similar redistribution of funds will not occur when the $2.7 billion (touted as the projected windfall from a one-cent increase in our sales tax) is embraced by the electorate.
I am also not at all confident we wouldn’t create a disincentive to people making their purchases within Palm Beach County. Why pay the extra levy when a short drive south (for south county residents) or north (for north county residents) will allow them to save the sales tax differential.
OK, maybe the trips to Publix, Walgreens and CVS will be unaffected, but big-ticket items (jewelry, art and automobiles being the biggest ticket items to immediately come to mind) would be impacted.
The same would hold true for rent paid on apartments and business space. All of these things add up and if small businesses and people begin to scoot across the border to Broward or St Lucie, the projected influx of revenue is going to be illusory.
I am also not at all comfortable with the idea of increasing what is already a regressive tax. The less one makes the higher the percentage of the sales tax bite in relation to earnings. The less you save, the more you spend and the more you spend, the more sales tax you pay.
Finally, even if the municipalities were really going to see 40% of the new money (again, as the proposal is being refined I see the municipality’s cut getting smaller and smaller) other sources of funding are likely to be reduced. There are already examples of this offsetting being discussed which, in the end, reduces what new money the municipalities would actually see.
The real answer is to stop ignoring the county spending needs and pass a realistic budget, which may necessitate an increase in the millage rate and be spread more equitably to the residents of our county.
Robert S. Weinroth | Deputy Mayor
City of Boca Raton
School Superintendent Robert Avossa called for increasing the sales tax at the West Boca Community Council meeting on Tuesday. He drew one of the biggest crowds we’ve seen to one of these events. It was standing room only and we were told 120 people came out, though that number was inflated a bit by the number of school district employees present.
Avossa was introduced by West Boca school board member Frank Barbieri, who invited us to the event and spoke with us at some length.
The idea of increasing sales tax at the county level hit the news about a week ago, covered best by the Palm Beach Post a week ago and also yesterday. Avossa described it as a half-a-penny tax, but in reality the proposal being worked on is to increase the sales tax rate from 6% to 7% in Palm Beach County. If you spend $10,000 a year it’s another $100 out of your pocket, or $200 on a $20,000 car. Half of the increase would go to the school district and the other half would go to other governments in the county, but mainly to the county commission.
According to Avossa this would generate an additional $900 million in revenue over the next 10 years. He spoke generally about where the money would go, including infrastructure improvements and technology in the schools. In particular he mentioned the idea of providing a tablet device to every kid with their school materials on it so they wouldn’t have to carry around heavy backpacks. However, there is no detailed plan yet for the money. We asked him directly after the event was over and he hopes to have a plan released sometime in March.
Avossa stayed around and talked to a variety of people, including this reporter. He had a delightful moment with a boy from Eagles Landing Middle School and also chatted with several adults.
After Avossa, we heard from Mary Lou Berger, who serves as both the county commissioner for West Boca and as mayor of the county. She also spoke in favor of the sales tax increase. Her numbers were a bit different, saying it would generate roughly $750 million over 10 years rather than the $900 million Avossa said.
Asked why voters should trust that the money would be spent as they say it would, both Avossa and Berger seemed offended and insisted that there would be processes in place to ensure it. Berger said there is a detailed plan on the county website but we haven’t found it yet. There is a discussion of spending plans in the Sun-Sentinel.
Update: Thanks to a reader we can point to this page on the county website, though we don’t think it provides clear answers. We did ask Avossa, Berger and others for comments on this article but have not heard from them as of this writing.
One big contrast between the two is what happens if voters do not approve the increase. Berger said the county would just raise property tax rates instead, and that would not require voter approval. Avossa does not have the power to do that for the school district and he did not have much of an answer as to how the district would handle such a defeat.
We did not get a chance to ask Berger whether sales tax is a better way to raise revenue than property tax. Economic theory would suggest that sales tax falls harder on the poor and lower middle class than sales taxes, especially because the poor tend not to own real estate. One might think a liberal Democrat would prefer property tax but again we didn’t have a chance to discuss that with her.
The audience was very receptive to all the speakers and seemed supportive of the sales tax increase. We were told that polling data indicates the county voters would vote for an increase. It also seems like good timing. The vote would be at the same time as the presidential election in November, which usually means a strong Democratic voter turnout.
Update: The school district responded and suggested reading the following pdf, which is what Avossa presented at the meeting:
They also suggested watching the video of the school board discussion from February 3rd. It’s at this link for recorded school board meetings, labelled February 3, Special Meeting 3.
Avossa’s strategic plan for the district is below:
Update: The proposed Stenner settlement agreement is at bottom.
The Palm Beach Post reports that West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner is expected to face a 10-day suspension as a result of the plagiarism in his graduation speeches.
It appears that Stenner will return to West Boca High. We’ve heard from many readers about the situation. Mostly they’re angry, they compare it to how the school treats students who commit plagiarism, and call for him to be fired. One parent of a current student wrote:
Mr. Stenner has shown no remorse for his plagiarism, and in fact, only contempt that he should be questioned. A principal should be held to the highest standard. Placing him back at the school is the worst possible decision. He has no moral authority left.
Another wrote this:
As a parent of a student at WBHS I am appalled at the slap on the wrist given this principal. If it were a student who was guilty of this, imagine the repercussions to the student. How can he have any credibility standing up in front of the student body after this? Every time he talks everyone will be Googling to find out who he copied this time.
If this were the only problem at WBHS it would be one thing. But the fact is WBHS is an underperforming school in a district and area that deserves better. Over my child’s time at WBHS I have observed first hand just how hollow the education received here is. While there are a few good teachers who stand out, by and large this administration has fostered a culture of mediocrity, tolerating indifferent and incompetent teachers. Many of the students who do well there do so because their parents pay for private tutors to do the job that the school is supposed to do.
Students succeed in spite of WBHS not because of it. Our kids deserve better than a principal who would plagiarize speeches and they deserve a school that prepares them for college and their life beyond.
Note that we’re not sure about calling West Boca High “underperforming.” The school has done well in state rankings.
We’ve also heard from school staff. Some would be happy to see him go and others love the guy and think he’s a great principal.
Stenner’s status is on the school board agenda for Wednesday:
Agenda Item Details
Meeting Jul 22, 2015
SPECIAL MEETING immediately following Workshop in the Board Room Category
Chairman Adds Items for Good Cause
Subject Item Added: LD1 Type Information, Procedural
LD1 Settlement Agreement and General Release with Mark Stenner
Good Cause Statement:
Good cause exists for the adding of this item as it is in the best interest of the School District and its students, and will allow Mr. Stenner to focus on his work as an employee of the School District.
From a reader:
I’ve addressed the situation with the school’s transportation department as well as the Principal of the school. I talked to Faye Ingraham at Transportation Services and told her the situation, she said there won’t much they could do but recommend a training course for the driver. She wanted me to send an Email of the incident, so I obliged and forwarded it to the Principal as well.
It’s been a few days and I haven’t heard back from the Principal. The staff at the school was nonchalant about what happened as well. Not sure my story is pertinent to any readers but it might be nice to make public the phone number for drivers to call if they have issues with bus drivers on the road.
For what it’s worth the phone number to contact Transportation Services is 561-738-9203. The person to speak to is Faye Ingraham. For a reference, we are in the south area and any callers should write down the number that is on the back of the bus so she can reference who was driving that day.
This is what I sent to Faye as well as Principal Mark Stenner. Feel free to share this for whatever reason:
I had the unfortunate experience of coming across one of your school bus drivers this afternoon, one that should not have been on the road; as you well know since we spoke on the phone earlier. Here is my summary of what happened as per your request.
This driver and I both left Mission Bay Plaza at the same time, he was in front of me and were both headed westbound. As we approached the first school zone I noticed he was tailgating anybody that was in front of him. He did manage to obey the school zone speed limits, however the aggressive driving took over immediately leaving the school zones. When he started to tailgate another women I pulled up alongside of him to see if he might have been texting/talking on a cell phone and may have been distracted. He was not and I noticed that there were no students on the bus. As we approached the school (West Boca Community High) approximately one mile east of the Fire Department on Glades Road this bus driver was going to cut off the driver behind me in order to merge into one lane. There were no other cars behind the driver so there was no reason that he couldn’t drop back and fall in behind this driver.
To my surprise him cutting off this driver behind me wasn’t his plans, this bus driver wasn’t going to be happy unless he passed me on the right (non-passing lane) as the lanes were merging into one. He was actually attempting to pass me on the shoulder where the lane he was in had actually ended. I was going 45 MPH so at that point he was well in excess of 45 MPH. When he finally realized that he wasn’t going to accomplish this ridiculous stunt he slowed down and tailgated me to the point I couldn’t even see his headlights.
At this point we were down to one lane and he still was halfway on the shoulder as if he still planned to attempt to pass me. I tapped my brakes to get him off my tailgate and he refused to stop trying to run me off the road by attempting to pass me on the right. At this point I blocked him to keep him from attempting to perform an extremely dangerous maneuver because at this point there were drivers behind him. This is when the bus driver stopped and pulled off the road. I got out of my vehicle to go see if there was something wrong with him. As I approached the bus he floored it, driving off into the grass and in doing so the bus hit my elbow which is now swollen and bruised.
At this point I called the police and made sure to know where he was going. We both ended up at the school where I waited for the Palm Beach Sheriffs to show up. Earlier in this ordeal when we had pulled over to the side of the road, the driver that was cut off pulled up alongside of me and explained he also saw the whole ordeal. This driver met up with me at the school to inform the Sheriffs of exactly what happened. His story mirrors mine.
This sort of driving is completely unacceptable to me and all other tax payers regardless of whether or not there were students on the bus. Many people that drive commercial vehicles have 1-800 numbers on their car/truck and can be used as grounds for termination for the most petty of complaints. This situation was far from petty and could have turned into an accident and the worst that can happen is this driver will be “recommended” to take a driver’s safety course? In this case the only number to contact is yours, provided to me by the school; a number that is not readily available to those on the road with these bus drivers.
I have contact information of the witness but I will not surrender it unless this situation is escalated for whatever reason. Nor will I do so without his permission. The bus driver’s name is Robert (that is the only information the school had) the bus# was 4021 and they told me also to include Code 09. Attached to this Email are a couple of aerial shots of the area where most of this occurred. Map #2 is Glades Road between Ponderosa Drive and Boca Falls Drive by the Fire Department just down the street from the school.
This isn’t the first instance of aggressive bus drivers over the years yet there is still no way to hold them accountable. Perhaps it’s time to take this story to another level.
An estimated 400 people showed up to the school district’s event at Olympic Heights High School on Lyons Road north of Glades. The meeting was for discussing the school board’s Resolution on Accountability. Slides from the presentation are at the bottom of this article.
The resolution has mysteriously disappeared from the school district website, and of course they ran out of English language copies of it. Plenty of Spanish language ones were available. However we were able to find a copy of it online at Diane Ravitch’s blog.
The resolution is lengthy but basically it seeks to limit the impact of testing on education. We give credit to the school district staff for keeping their presentation reasonably brief, and then allowing the audience members to speak.
Many of the audience commenters were teachers, though there were also students and parents. The group below spoke toward the end of the event.
An Olympic Heights junior, below, spoke early on.
And this 5th grader spoke well about the pressure of testing and the uncomfortable experience it has been for her.
There were other kids in the audience:
One of the teachers who spoke identified himself as the chair of West Boca High’s Language Arts Department, Noel Levin.
Generally the speakers read from prepared statements and were well received by the audience. The main complaints seemed to be about testing, curricula, and teacher pay. The “Common Core” buzzword came up repeatedly.
It seemed that a couple of things were missing. First, while the complaints were coherent, there did not seem to be a clear solution. Second, the resolution and much of the comments addressed federal and state issues beyond the power of the school board, but there was virtually no presence from state and federal officials.
There was one exception to that, as State Rep. Irving Slosberg took the microphone and gave a rousing speech encouraging people to vote out Rick Scott and the Republicans in Tallahassee and “change the management” in state government.
We spoke with Slosberg outside. We asked whether the problems people are complaining about (testing, curricula, common core, etc.) were brought about by both parties and he didn’t answer that directly. He focused on teacher pay, blaming Republicans for it being so low. We also asked about Charlie Crist’s role in the FCAT and Slosberg said that was in the past. He clearly did not like our questions and stuck to his partisan message. Regardless, we appreciate that he showed up and so did the audience.
A few other state and federal elected officials live close by but didn’t come. Early on we “tweeted” to Ted Deutch and Kevin Rader on Twitter but they did not respond.
Slides from the presentation are below:
Having interviewed the two challengers for school board earlier, I met Karen Brill the other day at Jidai Kaiten Sushi on Powerline. The funny thing about interviewing candidates is that they all tend to be likeable. Sometimes that makes it hard to pick who to vote for. In this case Brill made it easier.
Brill, Dave Mech, and John Hartman are running for District 3, which runs north from Clint Moore so most of West Boca can’t vote in the race.
She was elected to the school board in 2010 by defeating a long-time incumbent and a few others. She was endorsed in that race by the Palm Beach Post, and they endorsed her again today.
As their 2010 article mentions, Brill became motivated by challenges she faced from the school district in getting a proper and fair education for her autistic son. Because of that experience she describes herself as the go-to person on the board for parents with special needs kids.
Two things in particular impressed me about her. First, she’s very knowledgeable. Some people get elected to boards and just show up to collect the paycheck. Brill, by contrast, has spent the last four years learning a great deal about how things work in the school district. She doesn’t know everything, but she understands how the school district works far better than her opponents.
Second, she is a bundle of energy. The Post mentioned that as well. Our conversation ranged over many topics and anything that came up sparked a stream of ideas and answers from Brill.
She’s not perfect. I asked her some tough questions about “Common Core” and I didn’t love her answers. Her focus on special needs and her knowledge of the finer details of the issues seems to keep her from taking a “big picture” look at the district. For example, we talked about how the system should work better so that parents of kids with special needs wouldn’t need to go to a school board member for help. She got the point, but didn’t seem to know how to get there.
In a follow-up e-mail she said:
I believe we went off on a tangent on how to address the issue of parents of special needs students going to a school board member for assistance. There is an answer. The District needs to restore the Parent Services position (with federal funding from the IDEA) under the new ESE Director or they need to create an ombudsman position.”
And regarding seeing the big picture she said:
My special needs son is only 1/4 of my children. They range from gifted to advanced to average and then to challenged. One my primary concerns is the crush of standardized testing and what is doing to our students’ love for learning and teachers’ ability to teach.
I don’t find those responses persuasive, but I’m voting for her anyway. She has two opponents in the race. I interviewed Dave Mech in June. While I liked him, he just didn’t seem serious enough about the actually winning the election and serving on the school board. Brill, by contrast, is almost too serious about it.
More recently I interviewed John Hartman. There are some critical things I love about Hartman. He’s more of a big picture guy. He’s very concerned about Common Core and strongly opposed to it. If opposition to Common Core is your biggest issue with the schools, then Hartman is the one you should vote for and you should give him some money too. But it’s a little too much of a holy war. He reminds me of the Blues Brothers:
I don’t like Common Core, but it’s not enough. One school board member isn’t going to stop it, or whatever other name they place on it. Brill does see problems with Common Core, FCATs, etc. Her knowledge and energy will be more effective at managing how to deal with it. At the same time she’s ready to handle all the other issues our school board will confront. And she has the personality to get along with others and work through things.
Ideologically I line up more with Hartman. But you don’t win elections because of a higher power. You win them by planning ahead and figuring out how you’re going to reach the voters with your message. Those same methods help you get results when you do get elected. Brill is more ready to get things done. Like many first-time candidates Hartman did not understand how difficult it would be. And that makes you wonder how effective he would be if he won.
Practically speaking, Brill is going to win this election easily. I hope Hartman runs again, either for school board or another office. I’d love to help him in that next race.
We had lunch yesterday with John Hartman at It’s All Greek on Clint Moore near 441. He is one of three candidates for Palm Beach County School Board. District 3 runs mostly north of Clint Moore and west of Military Trail. We previously interviewed candidate Dave Mech, and hope to meet with incumbent Karen Brill as well.
A teacher, Hartman sees a number of things wrong with the current school system and he demonstrated a clear understanding of it from the inside. He presents an interesting contrast to Mech, who seems motivated more by his pending lawsuit against the school district and less aware of practical concerns we’ve heard from many parents.
Hartman is particularly focused on Common Core, corruption in the school district, and charter school abuses. He recognizes that the Somerset Academy charter school near the Canyon developments is popular and does well, but feels the current charter system fails on accountability. We’re not sure the regular public schools are much better on that, but he is persuasive.
The real race seems to be between Hartman and incumbent Karen Brill. He notes two key distinctions. First, Hartman is an educator, while Brill is a real estate agent. He feels that having a background in education makes him more qualified to serve on the school board. We aren’t sure about that but he certainly seems qualified.
Second, Hartman is opposed to Common Core. He describes Brill as leading the charge for it and points to her involvement in the “Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards” as evidence of that. We hope to ask Brill to clarify, but the evidence is compelling:
The full pdf of that document is at bottom.
We would also note a third distinction – Hartman is clearly a political outsider. You can read more about Brill on her website, but it appears she is well-connected within the establishment.
On the politics, this looks like a big climb for Hartman. While he does have a strong message, he doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for communicating that message to voters. We hope to meet with Brill next.