Vince Mayfield's October FWB Chamber Letter

Dispelling the Myths on the Half-Cent for Okaloosa County Schools

Education is the key to creating your own success in life. Without education and learning, you are setting yourself up for lifelong failure or underachievement.

In my personal life, I have made education and learning a life-long priority for myself and my children Molly and Wes. By coincidence, I married a rock star 5th Grade Teacher at Liza Jackson, Kimberly Mayfield! Go Lions!

My Father, a now a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, brought us here in 1972. I attended Okaloosa County Schools from 2nd Grade, ultimately graduating from Choctaw High School in 1984. Go Indians!

I went on to earn a BS from Troy State University.  Later I earned an MS in International Relations from Troy. In my 40's, I went back to school and earned an MBA from the University of Notre Dame. Go Irish!

Today, I am a veteran of the US Army and US Air Force. I am the CEO of Bit-Wizards and TalkingParents, which I co-created and grew with my business partners into two prominent multi-million-dollar companies in Okaloosa County. You might think I am bragging or a renaissance man. On the contrary, I am using them to illustrate a point. Education gave me a foundation, and it opened doors in life. My success now creates jobs that impact our community. My wife educates tomorrow's leaders, and successful people and my children will make an impact in our future. You cannot overemphasize the impact of K-12 education. Our schools facilitate students with academic and lifelong learning skills to become leaders in our community and the creators of their success in life. Whether they create success in college, a career, or navigating the opportunities and challenges they will encounter in life.

Governor DeSantis has made schools a priority. Unfortunately, he has inherited 20 years of neglect by the State of Florida as a whole. The fact is Florida has nationally received an F grade in its funding of K-12 schools and ranks 43rd out of 50 states in per-student spending. We are asking Okaloosa County School District (OCSD) to do more with even less. They are trying to squeeze water out of stone.

Despite being underfunded, OCSD Ranks #4 in the State in providing a top-quality K-12 education. OCSD produces superior educational results and is one of only three school districts in the State to earn an A for the past six years in a row.  

Unfortunately, the OCSD buildings and infrastructure are falling apart. It is a problem for our businesses and the long-term quality of life and viability of our community. The conditions of our schools is not a new issue. We have kicked the can down the road since the 70s, with the last minor investment happening in 1995. For 40 years, the voters have asked the schools in Okaloosa County to bandaid our aging facilities in favor of the status quo and lower taxes.

Schools are economic drivers, and infrastructure conditions are clear indicators of investment in a community. Old, dilapidated schools send a message that there is underinvestment and lack of opportunity in our area.

Our School Cents Makes Sense Campaign is a grassroots movement. It originated in the business community from key community leaders and the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. We are composed of community-minded people and organizations such as Destin, Crestview, and Niceville-Valparaiso Chambers of Commerce. We recognize the need and the long-term impact on our community.

Unfortunately, there are members in our community who misguidedly believe OCSD needs to: "sharpen the pencil." There are myths perpetuated by special interest groups that mislead some people. And some people are just negative people who are against virtually everything.

The sentiment that the schools are squandering the money is not valid.

IN ALMOST EVERY MEASURE, Okaloosa's per-student expenditures are below Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton, Bay, and the state average.
 

Myth #1 – OCSD School is Squandering Money and Needs to Sharpen Their Pencil and Tighten the Belt

Every year the OCSD financials are independently audited. They are then compiled, audited, and reviewed by the Florida State Department of Education. The Florida Department of Education and OCSD publish audits and financials in FULL TRANSPARENCY to voters on their websites.

Comparing OCSD to our surrounding counties and the state average is the best way to dispel this myth. Financials are broken down into General Revenue, Special Revenue, Debt Service, and Capital as spent on a per-student basis. Costs as compiled for the most recently audited and reported the school year of 2018-2019 show the following:

 

2018-2019 Annual Reported Expenditures per Student

General

Special Revenue

Debt Service

Capital Projects

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Average

$8,476

$1,299

$517

$910

$11,202

 

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Rosa County Schools

$8,150

$973

$317

$571

$10,011

Escambia County Schools

$7,964

$1,334

$274

$1,121

$10,693

Bay County Schools

$10,904

$1,014

$540

$1,240

$13,698

Walton County Schools

$9,326

$934

$726

$3,238

$14,224

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okaloosa County Schools

$8,431

$864

$247

$193

$9,793

 

It is clear OCSD is working within its means. OCSD is below the state average and our surrounding counties.  Nevertheless, they have produced superior results; however, they lack capital funds to improve infrastructure, technology, buildings, and security in our schools. 

School funding comes from property taxes collected in Okaloosa County. In 2018 Walton County had 9,253 students, and Okaloosa County had 31,237 students. BOTH received roughly the SAME AMOUNT of money for capital projects! A large part of the property in Okaloosa County is not taxed because it is owned and preserved by Federal and State governments or by the military for the installations and ranges.

The State has left it to the counties to fund schools via sales taxes, special county taxes, or property taxes. Out of 67 Counties in Florida, Okaloosa is one of a few counties without an additional tax to support the schools.
 

Myth #2 – OCSD Leaders Let the Schools Fall Apart

There is an adage in Okaloosa County that has existed for 40 years that citizens and government leaders have worn like a badge of honor. "We have the lowest taxes and millage rates in the state." I would counter: Yes, this is true, and we have the dilapidated buildings and infrastructure to prove it!

The responsibility for this rests squarely on the backs of the voters of Okaloosa County and the State Legislature. We have not adequately funded the schools for the past 25 years.
 

Myth #3 – Recent Audits of the OCSD Financials and Operations Showed Serious Issues

Recently there was an audit by OPPAGA – The Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. This audit was necessary to get approval for the ½ cent sales tax referendum on the ballot.  In every standard, Okaloosa County School District met Florida State Standards for Financial Controls and Accountability. They MET THE STANDARD in every area. There are always areas for improvement. Like all audits, there are auditor observations and recommendations.


A group called "Yes for Okaloosa Schools" funded and run by a gentleman named Pat Ryan, is bitter about their FAILED effort to have an appointed superintendent. Appointing the school superintendent would take the choice of superintendent out of the hands of the voters. As a result, they have begun smearing our School Cents Makes Sense ½ Cent Campaign with false and inflammatory disinformation about the OPPAGA Audit.

This group has decided to peddle a reform narrative. They have cherry-picked the auditors' comments and suggestions to paint a picture that there are severe flaws in OCSD accountability and transparency. Every county in Florida audited by OPPAGA has comments and suggestions in their audit. When viewed outside of the overall report, potentially give the appearance of issues. Cherry-picking out of context is deceptive and paints a false narrative. In an audit, you either meet the standard or you do not. Okaloosa meets the state guidelines and standards for financial accountability. Period!
 

A Positive Vision for the Future

The Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and the business leaders and organizations do not want to have our community just exist. We want to send a positive message and vision for our community. We want Okaloosa County and our Schools to thrive. Our future, our children, our businesses, our property values, our well being, and quality of life demand it. Our Schools and our Community need your support! Educate yourself! Please support us! Please Vote Yes November 3rd in support of a ½ Penny Tax for Okaloosa Schools.

Read this article in the October FWB Chamber Coastlines Newspaper

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Vincent W. Mayfield, Chief Executive Officer
Vincent W. Mayfield

CEO

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