Voters from all parties — and those with no party affiliation at all — will have one question to answer on the March 17 ballot for Keys schools.

This year is the fifth time the school district is asking voters to approve a Flexible Funding tax initiative that increases by a half-mill the tax levy that can be used for school district operations, salaries and classroom materials. In exchange, the school district lowers its capital, or construction, tax by the same half-mill.

“So there’s no tax increase at all; it’s a wash,” said longtime school board member Andy Griffiths. “We lower one category by the same amount that we raise the other category of funding to give us flexibility in how we can spend money.” 

Former superintendent John Padget masterminded the Flexible Funding initiative about 17 years ago in order to identify funding that would make Monroe County teachers’ salaries the highest in the state.

Voters must approve the tax renewal every four years.

“I have nightmares thinking about what would happen without our Flexible Funding initiative,” Griffiths said, adding that the tax currently generates about $15 million per year. “But on a more personal level, that translates to $15,000 per district employee. So someone making $50,000 today would only be earning $35,000 without the Flexible Funding.”

Voters have always approved the funding strategy, but that doesn’t stop Griffiths from getting nervous.

 “It is important to understand that no matter how anyone votes on the referendum it will not increase individual tax bills. It will only affect where the school district can use the revenue – either the General Fund or the Capital Fund. Our Capital Fund balances are sufficient to meet the needs of the capital program,” Griffiths said. “If the half-mill for operations fails to be approved by the voters, then the Monroe County School District will face a major budget shortfall.”

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.