PANAMA CITY — Ryan Neves, who served as a Bay District School Board member for 12 years, said he will vote against Bay District Schools’ April 20 referendum to raise property taxes to fund teacher pay hikes.
Neves put an ad in Sunday’s edition of The News Herald that stated the school board’s recent 5-0 vote to ask taxpayers to fund operational expenses was “baffling” to him. He stated that a tax proposal to pay for day-to-day expenses would be bad for business, no matter how well-intentioned.
Neves said that if he was still on the board, he would have voted against putting the referendum on the ballot.
One of Neves’ main concerns is what might happen after four years if the school district’s recurring expenses grow. He also said that some of things the school board said would be funded through the tax increase are already being paid for with federal money.
The additional one mill proposed by the referendum, if approved, would be used for operational expenses, including increases in teacher and other district employees’ salaries, mental health, school safety and pre-K programs.
Neves added that BDS employees should feel “insulted,” to be used as pawns by the school board to push a tax, so they can get raises.
“They’re saying they’re going to give everybody a 5% raise for the first year, and I’m assuming they’re not going to give a 5% increase every year, for the four years,” Neves said. “So, they (BDS employees) are getting a low percent of the amount of that tax.”
Neves said he doesn’t want to come off as somebody who believes the school board is hiding anything because he’s been a part of it and he knows how it goes.
“I’ve looked at the budget, I’ve been in the middle of it and I know how some things happen where things will literally come across your desk that says ‘Hey, the federal government now has a grant for this,'” Neves said.
“My problem is, within the time frame the board approved 5-0 to ask for a referendum that covers a number of items, and those items include $70 million, call it a grant or however you want to.”
Neves added that the perception from the public is that the school district is getting money from the federal government to fund some of the items the proposed tax increase will fund. Neves said he understands the federal funding can’t be used to give teachers raises, but it can be used for other items like mental health.
Superintendent Bill Husfelt said he doesn’t know about the $70 million that Neves mentioned. He said that Neves might be including the money the school board doesn’t know it is getting yet from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund).
Recently, the school district learned it was getting $24 million in federal money from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act that was signed under former President Donald Trump. Officials still don’t know how much they’ll get from the American Rescue Plan that was signed by President Joe Biden.
Husfelt repeated that the federal money can’t be used to pay for teachers’ raises.
“Now, I can pay people more to work summer school and things like that and we can hire more employees to do work that we need done, but we can’t use it for raises,” Husfelt said. “Here’s the thing: That’s a spin. Like the spin that we got $80 million in the bank. Well, yeah we got $80 million in the bank that is insurance money that we can’t use for salaries, either.”
One thing not mentioned in Neves’ ad is that BDS provided staff raises almost every year he was a school board member. Husfelt said that since 2008, there were three years in which the school board didn’t provide a raise for employees and four years that workers were given pay increases between 1% and 2.5%.
Husfelt added that period includes a year of furloughs and other cuts.
Neves said that he recalls one year the board didn’t give any raises and he thought the other two years they gave bonuses. He said the bonuses were a problem for teachers because a bonus doesn’t go against their retirement.
Neves said the school board opted for the bonus because it wasn’t a recurring expense, which is the main issue for him. He said you don’t want to create an expense that you have to pay…