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County voters generously approve another school tax

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of August 16, 2012)

From the moment early vote and absentee ballot totals were posted Tuesday, it was clear Indian River County voters were once again willing to dig deeper into their pockets to support public education.

About two out of three voters supported the Indian River School District's measure to raise $32.7 million in additional property taxes over the next four years. The measure passed 17,678 to 9,314.

“When it comes to education, this community realizes that importance of education and we are beyond grateful,” said School Board member Claudia Jimenez.

The tax measure will go into effect next July, when two previously passed school district referendums expire.

As a result, taxpayers shouldn’t notice much of a change in their tax bills.

Early on, school district officials tried to downplay the referendum, saying that they were not seeking a tax increase. Instead, they called it a tax continuation.

Mark Mucher, a board member with the Indian River County Taxpayer Association, said Tuesday he regretted not getting out the troops to hold signs urging voters to vote no on the referendum.

“Oh my God,” he said when told of the early returns in which 65 percent of the 16,000 votes counted at the time favored the tax increase.

 “I wanted to have signs printed but I couldn’t get it done. Oh well, hold your wallet.”

School district officials have long argued that more money is needed because of the recession’s devastating impact on the district’s budget.

Some of the money raised by the tax increase will continue to pay the salaries of 31 teachers whose jobs were secured by a 2010 school tax referendum.

The money also will be used to update the district’s computers and textbooks.

The vote was not without controversy.

Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, a series of fliers was sent to homeowners touting the referendum's merits and robocalls were made from Superintendent Fran Adams, reminding parents that school starts next week and urging them to vote on the tax referendum.

“If you are interested in further information regarding this referendum, please go to the school district webpage at Thank you for your time.”

Adams 35-second robocall to some 18,000 households is believed to be the first time in the five years that the district has had such a system in place that a superintendent sent out a welcome back message.

Florida statute prohibits the school district from campaigning for a “yes” vote.

The Florida Department of State Election’s Division said Adams’ robocall did not specifically violate any laws.

“Since the message does not expressly advocate, it’s not a ‘political advertisement’ or ‘independent expenditure,’” said state elections spokesman Chris Cates.

Still, the call raised local Tea Party hackles.

“Fran Adams has the same rights to be involved in elections as every other American,” said Toby Hill in a released statement on behalf of the group which he leads.

“She can use her own money, time, and resources to support candidates and issues just like the rest of us,” Hill said.

“What she does not have the right to do is use taxpayer resources to influence an election.

“And let’s be honest about the robocalls, that is exactly what she did,” Hill said.

“It may have been deemed legal, but it is highly inappropriate as it uses resources paid for by all taxpayers to support an issue that surely some taxpayers will oppose,” Hill added.”