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Franklin County voters to weigh millage shift

Money would be earmarked for pay increases

Franklin County voters in November’s general election will be asked to decide whether they favor shifting a half-mill in property taxes, now devoted to capital outlay, to operating revenues, where they can be spent on hiking teacher pay.

After the school board voted unanimously last month to support putting the ballot measure on the Nov. 5 ballot, the county commission last week also voted unanimously to place it on the ballot, where it must receive a thumbs-up from a majority of voters if it is to be enacted.

“This is not a tax increase, it was voted in by Franklin County since 2008, but we need to amend it to a full-mill from a half-mill to allow teachers a significant pay raise,” Superintendent Steve Lanier told county commissioners last week. “It’s been successful since 2008 and I suspect it will be voted in again.”

If enacted, the amount of ad valorem property taxes levied for capital outlay would drop from one mill to a half-mill, and the millage for operating revenue, first passed in 2008, would go from a half-mill to a one mill.

One reason that the district can make the shift without affecting its capital outlay needs is that in November 2022 Franklin County voters approved a half-cent sales tax strictly for capital outlay, as that money cannot be spent for operational needs, such as teacher pay raises.

Lanier said that other than a new bus barn, a project long in the offing, the district is not eyeing any major capital projects. “We’re not looking to build,” he told commissioners.

If passed, the full mill levy would start on July 1, 2025 and end on June 30, 2028. 

That puts it in sync with the half-mill levy that was passed by voters in 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020 and then in 2022, just two years later, after the Florida Legislature required that all such referendums be addressed at a general election, and not a special election.

Over the last four years, Lanier said, this half-mill shift from capital outlay to operational funds has provided a little more than $5.7 million in additional operational fund monies.

He said the additional half-million in operational money would bring in about $1.8 million per year. “And this will increase as property values increase,” Lanier said.

“The only way we are going to retain and recruit certified teachers is to pay them what they are worth and that’s what we have to do,” he said. “We have to catch up with the other districts. 

“Teachers are having a hard time finding housing when they come in,” Lanier said. “It’s a higher cost of living here than it is in all the other districts who pay more.”

The superintendent pointed to most current data from the Florida Department of Education website, for the year ending in 2023, which showed Franklin has the second lowest average teacher salary in the state, at $42,507. (See sidebar).

In contrast, the district with the highest paying average teacher salary in Florida is Monroe County, at $68,141. 

The Apalachicola Bay Charter School, which would receive a proportional share of the additional millage based on student population, or about 30 percent, has given the ballot measure its support.

“The ABC School will benefit greatly from the passing of the half-mil referendum in November,” said Principal Elizabeth Kirvin. “A critical priority of our school leadership is to increase teacher and support staff pay as much as possible at a sustainable rate. The flexibility given to us by the passing of the referendum will not only allow us to increase salaries to a competitive rate, but also help us enhance security and safety, and fund educational programs.”The precise ballot language would ask voters whether they want to boost the current ad valorem operating millage levy from a half-mill to 1.0 mill annually “to recruit, hire, and retain teachers, staff, bus drivers, and other non-administrative school support, increase employee’s salaries to be competitive with the market, enhance school security and safety, expand educational programs, increase career and technical (vocational) education and improve athletic programs.”

How teacher salaries compare

Officials with the Franklin County Schools say that based on the latest data from the Florida Department of Education, Franklin County has the second lowest average teacher salary in the state.
Here is how the average salary compares to other Panhandle districts:
• Franklin: $42,507
• Gadsden: $43,755
• Calhoun: $44,005
• Liberty: $44,548
• Jackson: $45,628
• Wakulla: $46,763
• Gulf: $49,831
• Bay: $51,706
• Jefferson: $54,840
• Leon: $56,082

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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