School District Referendum Update

WORDS HAVE MEANING


There is an old standard of journalistic approach that adheres to a very American axiom. That axiom is, Who, What, When, Where & Why.

The discussion at hand surrounding the $4,000,000.00 of improperly allocated tax payer money requires in the least that we not focus on the character of the individuals involved, which given the slippery ethical slope they stand on is easy to do. Those discussions can take place later.

It requires that we address the facts as facts so that they can shine the light and let the players that cast shadow be seen of their own behavior.

So, in that interest I offer the following. We have an opportunity to bring to the light a matter that is fundamental to how we allow our local governance to transpire.

Let’s Start with the Who. In this case the Who includes, the Martin County School District, Martin County School Board, a Volunteer committee for oversight and the Union. It also includes the Property Owners of Martin County and the Voters.

Now to the What. In late 2018 voters approved a referendum. The referendum increased the amount of money taken from the property owners and it was to be given to the District Teachers. The referendum was sold as a Teacher pay raise. The referendum language follows.


    August 28, 2018 – Shall the Martin County School District increase ad valorem millage by one-half mill per year, beginning July 1, 2018, and ending June 30, 2022, to fund essential operating expenses for: School safety and security for all schools, mental health programs, recruiting and retention of qualified teachers, professional development for teachers and staff, and academic initiatives; with annual reporting to the county’s citizens to ensure fiscal stewardship?

Yes – 22,187 No – 17,586


This year voters were told that the $11,200,000.00 collected from property owners for this years allocations would go to five categories.


All Categories are to fund the essential operating expenses for:

  1. School Safety and Security for all Schools
  2. Mental Health Programs
  3. Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Teachers
  4. Professional Development for Teachers and Staff
  5. Academic Initiatives

Soon after the election a group of Martin County citizens pushed to establish a citizen oversight committee to watch our money. They were each appointed by a Board or District person.

In the course of events the committee noticed that there was an annual $1,000,000.00 allocation to a group of employees of the district that did not meet any of the criterion the voters approved.

That brings us to the Why.

Why were voters sold a story line about the referendum that the money would support Teachers and School Security only to then give money directly to non-teaching employees?

Why was the money first identified as an Academic Initiative? Money in a person’s pocket is not an academic initiative.

Why has the money been moved now to the heading of Teacher Retention & Recruitment?

The where, in all of this will be the location of the meeting in which the School Board will hold in order to officially allocate the money. Given recent lifting of virus mandates by the Governor it makes sense that we would fill the chamber with tax payer and parent alike to voice our protest.

We are going to add another step to the axiom of Who, What, When, Where and Why, the word How.

How did the money get allocated to pay people that are not even closely mentioned in the language the voters agreed to at the ballot box?

How did the committee end up reallocating the money into another bucket when many agree that it is still not right?

How is the process of negotiation being used to run cover for the School Board?

The final how is yet to be answered. How will the Board Vote when they have a chance to do what is right?

Let’s answer the rest of the HOW questions.

How did the money get allocated to non-teaching personnel when they are not mentioned in the referendum language agreed to by Voters?

After the voters agreed to take more money from property owners for Teachers, the system began its machinations of due diligence to get the money into the checkbook. The first step was dividing the four year multi-million dollars up into the five categories for allocation. To do this the District negotiated the allocation with the Union, after the fact, to determine who was going to receive the stipends and at what level.

The negotiations ended up in essence rewriting the referendum language by including all members of the union in the payout, regardless of voter approved and required credential. In the Union you are known as a Bargaining Unit. In the process job descriptions where eliminated from the picture and no longer needed to fit the referendum language because now everyone is a bargaining unit. All that was left is to determine which bargaining units fit which of the five buckets.

At first the General District Counsel argued that non-teaching personnel could be kept in the category of academic Initiatives. The foundation of the argument was weak and did not stand.

The committee decided to reallocate the non-working personnel allocations under Section Three of the referendum.  The argument presented to the committee by counsel was that non-teaching personnel were required for the recruitment and retention of Teachers.

There is again a very thin argument being made by the District on this one.

Let’s back up a second though and review the headings one more time.

  1. School Safety and Security for all Schools
  2. Mental Health Programs
  3. Recruiting and Retention of Qualified Teachers
  4. Professional Development for Teachers and Staff
  5. Academic Initiatives

Remember, the $1,000,000.00 payout annually for a group of non-teaching employees started under section five, Academic Initiative. The bargaining unit of non-employees has now been moved to Recruiting and Retaining Qualified Teachers.

The new language used for basis of argument by the District Counsel reads Recruiting & Retaining Teachers.

The Recruitment portion is only allocated 30k. The $30,000.00 is going towards recruitment fairs for new teacher recruitment.

The rest of the money for retention is going directly to the Teachers pockets in the form of Stipend.

The justification by the District is that by moving 1,000 non-teaching bargaining units to the category of retention, , it will “help retain teachers”. Thus it meets referendum criteria.

Non-teaching employees were never mentioned on the ballot. Well, not under section three at least. One could make the case that you could spend money on professional development for Staff under section four. However, to argue that money directly to anyone’s pocket based upon the referendum language takes some purposeful effort of interpretation as well as rewriting of intent to justify.

It should begin to become clear now what has been taking place. There are details beyond these blatant obfuscations that we can and will explore deeper. For this article though, it is important to understand that things are not always as they seem. There really is a man behind the curtain. This one is manipulating more than just the $4,000,000.00 of Property Owners money.

It would have been perfectly alright if the citizens committee had recommended that the District and Board reallocate the dollars to the agreed upon headings of the referendum. The committee by all rules of order in their mission could have left the one million allocation out with a big fat asterisk that said – “It is our recommendation that you put the money here.”

However, it was never offered to them that they could suggest reallocation’s. Instead they were told all they could recommend was where the pieces landed in a predetermined and modified matrix.

This can easily lead to a misconception that the committee actually gave unanimous approval for the outcome. They are not unanimous.

If the people allow $4,000,000.00 to be used for something other than what the Voters were told and agreed to, well that has some pretty far reaching implications that you do not need this author to explain.

We hope that you will continue to follow this process. Please contact your School Board Members and let them know your thoughts.


Editors Note – You will find greater detail of the matter and documentation in our first in this series: <<Part I Here>>

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