Questioning school board special election decision

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SARASOTA, FL - Sarasota County school board members voting this week to spend more than $400,000 for a special referendum in March. Its for a continuation of a tax which brings in millions to the county's schools. School board officials say it's necessary, but some now say even the election itself is a waste of money.

Waiting until November 2014 wouldn't have saved a lot. "We need to be saving that kind of money. If you think a half a million dollars is nothing then that's why our budget is close to a billion dollars." Walt Augustinowicz and a group called Better Sarasota Schools for Less say the real reason the board chose the more expensive route is because there will be less voter turnout. Increasing the odds of success as district employees and parents of students do show up. "Lets not try to slip something past the public. Lets get their input. Lets let most of the voters come out in November and see how they feel."

"We cannot lose $40 million." School board chair Jane Goodwin says the reason it has to be in March is because it's set to expire before November. "If we do not have that all together and approved by July 1st we miss a full year or maybe more of those dollars for our operating budget."

The tax which would cost the average homeowner about $200 a year has been passed in special elections three previous times. Augustinowicz says they could have changed it long ago. "They've had four years to figure out what they could do differently to save the tax payer next time."

Goodwin says paying for the less popular election might actually save money. "In a general election to get our message out we would have to spend more than $400,000 on that campaign."

She says the tax has helped them become one of only five "A" districts in the state with better student performance. "These things are done because we have great teachers. We pay our teachers well.

The loss she says would have a impact on more then grades. "650 people have already lost their jobs. Can we stand for another 500 people to lose their jobs? That's really what it is about. Our economy."

Augustinowicz says they will now work to show the school board where they can save without the extra tax. All while campaigning against the referendum. Something they also tried to do four years ago. "I think maybe at the very least the public will vote no just because they don't want to see them waste a half a million dollars and in the future put it on the November ballot."

The school district says the special election will be held in March, before Easter. That's when many of our part time residents head back home.