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: [gview file=”https://1k5cbf.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Referendum-and-FCA-Presentation_2_3_16.pdf”] 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: [gview file=”https://1k5cbf.p3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/FINAL_ENTRYPLAN11-5-15.pdf”]
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 Item Added: 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 wasn’t much they could do but recommend a training course for the driver and maybe even traffic violator schools considering his aggressive driving. 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: Hello Faye, 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 and he was really worried. 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.