Today will be a crucial day for the Marion County school district.
In a few hours amendment 4 will determine if teachers and teacher aids who were laid off last year will get their jobs back. It will also conclude if programs such as art, music and physical education, which are half-time right now, will become full-time again.
Teachers of the art, music and physical education programs work at two schools each semester, which means a teacher will spend his or her first nine weeks at their first school and then go to a second school for another nine weeks.
In May 2013, Marion County Public School District went through its first mass layoff in the county’s history. The school district laid off 161 first-year teachers and teacher aids, said Ray Seaman, the coordinator for the Yes For Marion Schools campaign.
Since the layoff, 60 first-year teachers have been offered their jobs back. However, 101 teacher aid positions were permanently laid off.
That all may change on election day, when voters will be asked to vote on a $60 million plan to fully restore the programs and those teachers for four years.
The Marion County school funding referendum asks for the ad valorem millage rate to be increased by one mill. Meaning one mill equals to one-dollar per thousand.
If the amendment were to pass today, it would cost the average homeowner of a $100,000 home an additional $75 in taxes per year, coming to $6.25 a month.
An ad valorem tax is a tax levied in portion to the value of the thing(s) being taxed. For example the property tax is an ad valorem tax, said Lainie Claudio, assistant property appraiser for the Marion County Property Appraiser’s office.
Claudio also reassured that the money will be taken from the school tax portion of a homeowner’s property value.
The amendment would begin July 1, 2015, and the money would be used to fund reading, physical education, art, music, libraries and vocational programs, as well as teacher salaries.
After the layoffs, elementary school teachers have only had access to teacher aids, who assist in classroom duties, one-to-two hours per week. If the referendum were to pass teachers would once again have the classroom support that they need, said Seaman.
“A good example of why our teacher aids are so important: a good friend, who is a kindergarten teacher… started this year with 24 kindergartners in her class,” Seaman said. “And she doesn’t have access to a teacher aid anymore. So she is forced to deal with all of those kids at once without much help,” said, Seaman.
Kevin Christian, the Public Relations Officer for Marion County Public Schools, said the money would primarily be used to pay for additional teaching positions.
“The money could and would also be used to help us in class-size reduction, which is part of the Florida State Constitution and would also help us retain highly qualified teachers and paraprofessionals,” Christian said. “So you can see pretty much across the board, with a couple of other exceptions, this money would be used for salaries.”
“Our kids are only getting half of the typical art instruction that kids get in surrounding counties that have those programs full-time,” Seaman said.
These programs are not funded by the state. Therefore, they were the first to be affected by budget cuts, since they are not tested directly through standardized testing, said Christian.
If the referendum were to pass it would take effect July 1, 2015 and it would go through June 30, 2019.