What You Need to Know About School Cents Makes Sense
Dan: That's right. It's 8:30. It is time for Bit-Wizard's Tip of the Wand. A little bit different show this morning. We have Vince Mayfield in. He is the chairman of the board of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, and his sidekick this morning is going to be nobody from Bit-Wizards, but it is going to be the president and CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, Ted Corcoran. Good morning guys.
Vince Mayfield: Yeah, I did not get it.
Ted Corcoran: We didn't get it.
Vince Mayfield: Yeah, we're here, Dan. How are you?
Dan: I'm good. I just introduced you guys, but you probably didn't hear me. Vince Mayfield, the... Well, you got so many hats, Vince. You are the part owner of Bit-Wizards, also the chairman of the board this year for the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. And then we also have Ted Corcoran, the president and CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, not from Bit-Wizards, from the Chamber though.
Ted Corcoran: That is correct, Dan. I do want to advise the other hat that Vince does wear, which he's very proud of, and that is the Notre Dame fan club leader of the state of Florida, if not the entire Southeast.
Dan: If not the entire United States of America.
Ted Corcoran: Right. Very proud of his Fighting Irish.
Vince Mayfield: That I am.
Dan: He is.
Vince Mayfield: I'm just happy we could have football this year, too.
Dan: Yep. And the Irish drink, that's not so bad either.
Vince Mayfield: Yep. We didn't wuss out like the Big 10 this year.
Dan: Okay. Rub it in. Rub it in.
Ted Corcoran: Hold on a second. If I could, gentlemen, I was just throwing that out as a cue to how important education is in Vince's life, not only for himself, but for his family and his children, rather than the football side of things.
Vince Mayfield: Yeah. This is true, which is why we're here today, Dan. I have digressed. So Ted and I, I've decided to give up our typical time here at Bit-Wizards and bring in Ted to talk to you guys about the School Cents Makes Sense campaign for a half-cent county surtax tax for the schools. So the Chamber has taken this on as one of our items for this year, and we're proud to be a sponsor of that. We're also working with prominent attorney Michelle Anchors in trying to make this happen to fix the crumbling infrastructure that we have within our school systems.
Dan: Right. Yep. I remember we did the sales tax to help with this, to earmark this for upgrading the schools. By the way, Ted, are we going to upgrade the schools or is there plans to build new schools?
Ted Corcoran: Well, initially it's the upgrades, Dan. What we're doing here is we're making up for over 25 years of unresponsiveness of our community to reinvest in our schools. So initially, we are looking at repairing what is necessary. I think down the road, the school board and superintendent will probably look at building some new schools. But the way I've heard of it so far is that 99. 9% of these funds, if not 100% of them, are going to be totally reinvested into repairing our schools, our existing schools.
Dan: Right. Yeah. I've heard a lot of really... Well, as Vince... Vince was coming in and he was talking about the different schools when you went on tours and looked at all the different schools and how much they needed, how much work they needed.
Vince Mayfield: Yeah. And these are not nice-to-haves. These are absolute musts. I mean, we're talking about things like air conditioning systems that are totally failing. And we're not talking about the type of air conditioning system where you just go replace it on your house. You're talking about whole commercial building air conditioning systems, which makes it impossible for the kids to be able to take tests, to operate, as you know what it's like here as we get into the spring and early summertime. Especially, kids have had times where they've been in taking tests and had to be out. Most notably, I remember talking with some folks at Choctaw, where the mother had told me she had to come by three different times to pick up their kid during their standardized testing because the ACs were out. So it's ACs, it's roofs, it's leaking roofs, we've got a school buses that are actually hand-me-downs from Escambia County, and our school systems are literally falling apart.
Dan: Yeah. And something that you mentioned before Vince, I believe, is how much money we spend per child, when we look at investing in our schools, how much lower it is than other counties.
Vince Mayfield: Yeah. That's an interesting statistic there, Dan. I'm glad you brought it up. But school funding is divided up into two buckets. You've got your typical operational funds that fund salaries and things like that, and curriculum, and those types of things. And then you have another bucket, and that bucket is for the infrastructure and maintenance of the infrastructure. And when you look at that, and you look at what the surrounding counties do and what the average is, we pale in comparison. So as an example, Walton County spends about $3, 281 per student, per year on their infrastructure. If you look over at neighboring Escambia County, it's $2, 008.32 per student. And when you look at Santa Rosa, it's $648. 67 per student. Now, Okaloosa pales in comparison with $236. 77 per student. It's barely enough to keep up the maintenance. And then, if you couple with that the fact that with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting down to South Florida, state legislature mandated a bunch of security enhancements at all the schools, things like cameras, and special doors, and gates, and you may have seen some of these go up at Choctaw. But they gave almost no additional funding in order to fund those security enhancements. And so, the school is having to take that out of their existing infrastructure budget in order to make those necessary security enhancements that are mandated by the state.
Dan: Gosh. Yeah, we're really falling down on the job, it looks like, as far as being able to put the money into our schools. And then, like you're talking about, you have an additional requirements, and we have no extra funding for that, practically.
Ted Corcoran: Yeah. If I could, Dan, I'll follow up on that. There's been, for the longest time... I've lived in Okaloosa County for 30 years, and during that 30 years, for the last 30 years, quite frankly, we'd say, the catch phrase has always been, " We have the lowest tax base in the state of Florida." And there's two ways of looking at that, Dan. One is, you could say, " Hey, we have a lowest tax base in the state of Florida, period." Or, you could say, " Hey, we have the lowest tax base in the state of Florida, and it shows." And that is the part right there that we are addressing and have been addressing for the last couple of years, Dan and everyone listening on 1260 today. Two years ago, in November of 2018, for the first time in over almost 32 years, our community interpreted that it was time to reinvest in our county projects, our roads, our law enforcement, et cetera. And now, as I mentioned, the last time we did a school tax was 25 years ago. Two generations of student has gone through. So for reasons that I just can't totally understand, we have been very remiss on re-investing in our community. And Dan and listeners of 1260, it is time to do it now.
Dan: It sounds like it. It sounds like we really need to enhance at least the schools. Because the kids got to go in there with a reasonable expectation of being comfortable. And we don't want to put our kids in places that are so dilapidated that need to be repaired like this.
Vince Mayfield: Well, that's absolutely true, Dan. A lot of people don't realize what the impact is to our local economy when we don't invest in the schools. A perfect example is, everybody knows that a huge part of our economic engine here in Northwest Florida is the military. And at one of our MAC meetings, General Kane came in and he talked about his priorities. And one of the top three priorities had to do with the fact that quality of life within the community, and the number one thing within that was the quality of the schools in the area. So that was very important to him, and they make those decisions on where they base people here in the military based upon the quality of the schools. In fact, there's actually a scorecard that is kept by the military that ranks the schools based upon their condition, the type of education, those types of things. And so, that's absolutely critical in terms of keeping our force strong here, and absolutely critical in supporting our military. On the flip side, on the civilian side, I'll tell you, because we employ high-tech engineers, and as you know, my company only does commercial work, but there's also a lot of defense contractors here, but I can tell you that a lot of parents that have families, and we try to hire them from outside the area to come here, the first thing they do is they go look at our public school systems. They also look at the cost of our housing, and I have actually lost a couple of potential engineers because they went and they read some of the stuff in the local newspaper about the condition of our schools. And when we talk about that, I'd like to segue. We're only talking about the infrastructure of the schools. I have to say that with what funding that the schools do get, they actually do a great job. We are number one of only three districts in Florida who have earned an A rating in the past six years in a row. And we're number four overall out of all 67 counties in Florida. And we are also top two in eighth grade science, algebra, and geometry. So the teachers, the administrators, the folks there are doing their very best to educate our kids the best way that they know how. But I will say that our school systems, if you go in, I graduated from Choctaw High School, and I went to Meigs, I went to Shalimar Elementary, and I walk in those schools and they look just as dilapidated as they did when I went to them 35-40 years ago.
Dan: Gosh. I'm glad you mentioned that Vince, because we have got such high ratings for educators, we just need to give them better structures to perform their duties and the kids to go in and learn.
Ted Corcoran: It's interesting, Dan. I mean, we could... There's all sorts of facts that are just jaw dropping. One of the ones that amazes me the most, and certainly we chatted about the length of how old some of these schools are. 61% of the schools in Okaloosa County are over half a century old. 61%. Almost 75% of our schools are half a century old, Dan. And then we've only built two schools this century. So Dan, when we are using centuries as the timeline for our community, on our schools, we are in trouble.
Dan: Well, they can be put on the national registry for antiques, I guess.
Ted Corcoran: They're historic buildings. Actually, every one of our schools could be on the historic registry. But that's serious. I mean, we laugh about it, but that is very true. Think about this. Almost 75% of the schools in Okaloosa County are over half a century old. So as Vince is indicating, when he was at Meigs, however many years ago that was, I mean, nothing's changed. And everyone listening here today that grew up here can relate to that. And we as a community simply have not reinvested in our schools, and it is time this election year, on November 3rd, when we have our referendum.
Vince Mayfield: If you think about it, trying to maintain something that old is really difficult. I mean, if you think about the cost to do that, right? And then, if you think about the fact that we're trying to educate our kids in a world full of technology, and you've got buildings that don't have proper wifi, they don't have good enough ethernet to go, or in some cases, we've got some of our schools that don't have high speed internet out to them, some on the fringe of the county. This is problematic. If we're going to educate kids that are going to be able to take the jobs in the next century, we've got to have the technology, and the tools, and things to do that. And as you know, if you try to go back and wire an old house, it just doesn't work, or if it's so bad that the kids start to make fun of it like they're doing over there at Niceville High School. They actually have an Instagram page called The Mold of Niceville High School.
Dan: Oh, great. Yeah. Well, just because of old buildings of the military, I can just say that sometimes it costs more money to repair some of these buildings and maintain them than it does to build a new one. We did that with one of the clubs on base, so I can see what exactly what you're saying. The wiring, and also the air conditioning units, and all the ducting, and then, we'll talk about insulation and how much it's going to cost to cool a building or heat a building when the insulation is maybe substandard. So there's probably so many upgrades that need to happen to these cause, I'm guessing.
Vince Mayfield: Absolutely. A lot of people want to know about what types of things are going to be done to the schools, and where's the project list, and how's this done. And I'll tell you a little bit about how that's come about. There's a company over there called Jacobs Engineering, and they basically have gone in, and it's kind of interesting, because the company Titan, Titan now-
Ted Corcoran: Titan Technologies.
Vince Mayfield: Titan Technologies, they went in and evaluated all the school districts based upon a property management model that they use also with the Department of Defense to evaluate all the buildings, but tailored for the schools, and they have evaluated all of the needs, and they have rack and stacked them. And these are prioritized as things that must be done, things that have to be done. And they've rated that, and they've turned it over to the school district to take, and evaluate, and do something with.
Ted Corcoran: Yeah. And just to add onto that, Dan, not only did Titan go in there with that, they went with the principal as well as the SAC, or the parent leadership there, and they reviewed the list collaboratively. So this wasn't just engineers going through. This was with the principal and a parent leadership to agree on that list. And it's... So therefore... And then, when we went back in January and February, we went to every single school, reviewed that list, the parents were all in agreement, and it's a pretty thorough list. It's really exciting to know that on November 3rd, we're going to be able to make those repairs. And for some of those schools, have been 20 or 25 years in the waiting.
Dan: Gosh. So, when the repairs are made, are they going to go school by school, or is it going to be kind of, everybody's going to have something going on at some point?
Vince Mayfield: Well, I think the school district, as I understand, is going to prioritize it based upon need. If you've got a roof caving in and water leaking, they're going to prioritize that first. So they've got to rack and stack it across the county, and they're going to go where the most need is done first. And then also, there is going to be an advisory committee that helps review these after the fact.
Dan: I see. So it's not going to be one school at a time. It's going to be probably projects on a lot of different schools at the same time?
Ted Corcoran: Yeah, no doubt, Dan. What happened, it was interesting, the last time, actually the only time in Okaloosa County's history that a school tax passed, it was in 1995, Superintendent Don Gaetz, who was a four year, 1 cent, local optional sales tax. And they built Davidson up in Crestview, and they built Destin Middle School. But since it was only four years, they bonded the money during the first one or two years and just went through it like crazy and made all the repairs for the little stuff that came up. This is for 10 years, so they'll be able to... And there's much more to do. So they'll... Again, we're not in charge of that aspect of things, but they will pace themselves, I guess, and do it as they can.
Dan: Good, good. I like the idea where they're going to find the biggest need and just work those projects first. That makes the most sense, anyway.
Vince Mayfield: And one of the good news about this is, is that 56% of this tax is going to be paid for by the tourists and visitors, and it's going to generate roughly $240 million. Is that correct, Ted?
Ted Corcoran: Yeah. Yeah. Well, on a regular year, it would have been somewhere around 22 million a year, 22 to 24. Certainly, we're behind on the sales tax collection, now. We all hope that that'll pick up again. But the goal was, going into this, that it would be somewhere between 22 and $24 million per year, times 10 years, so the $240 million that Vincent has indicated.
Vince Mayfield: But the interesting thing there is that there's over $500 million in need and neglect that has happened. And so, what we're really talking about is trying to raise the schools up from say, maybe a D rating to a B minus. There's still a lot of work that has to be done, and that's what happens when you let something go for so long. And I'm all for this tax. I've got two young kids in the school system here, a nine year old and 11 year old, I've got a wife that's a teacher. And other than from a business perspective, being able to bring in qualified engineers into the area, which is one of my motivations, I want to make sure that my kids are well-educated and that they go to schools where they have a healthy and safe environment for them to be educated and well-educated so that they can be productive citizens.
Dan: Yeah. And I think you speak for all the parents in the area too, Vince.
Ted Corcoran: Yeah. And it's important, Dan, that not only the parents who currently have people in school, such as Vince does, but the grandparents who had people in school such as myself, and even the great grandparents, we need them to be able to say, " Hey, this is really important for the future of my community." I don't want to hear people say, " Well, my kids are out of school, so I don't want to pay for it." I want people to understand how important it is for the future of Okaloosa County that we are investing, not only in that senior who's going to graduate this year, but that kindergartner who is going in and just starting their career. It's imperative that even those who no longer have people in schools realize how important this is for the future of Okaloosa County.
Dan: Right. Well, I believe that, because the education of our kids is the future of our community, and so we should be investing in them.
Ted Corcoran: Yeah. I just... A lot of people... Some people that I chat with will say, " Well, my kids are out of school." I say, " Hey, come on now." But they'll come around to it. They're kind of half joking, but-
Vince Mayfield: Well, what I'd like to tell them is that somebody else paid for them to go to school when they were going through. Somebody paid the tax back then so that they could get a proper education. And so, that's how this works, right?
Ted Corcoran: That's a good point. Very good point.
Dan: Yep. Yep. Well, just the idea of being able to support our kids to get a better education... Education is great, but to be in a good environment to learn, I think it just enhances our entire community. It makes it look nicer. The kids are more comfortable, parents and grandparents, and even people that don't have kids in school, they can look to these schools and go, " We have good quality structures here for our kids to go to school," versus, " These things are falling apart." I mean, nobody wants that for any of the kids in our area.
Ted Corcoran: Yeah, no doubt. It's interesting, Dan, and obviously we still have, I think it's 56 days until what is going to be one of the craziest elections of all time, I think everyone listening there is well aware of that. And the important part of this is not only is the president on that ballot, but it's going to have a presidential election, and it'll have the Congress election, it'll have our local county commissioners, and some of those other ones that have a runoff, then you're going to flip the ballot over and there's going to be five constitutional amendments of which I haven't even really dug into yet. One of them will be that minimum wage one, but there's going to be five, and then our little one is going to be tucked at the back, the very last one, no number, no name. It's just going to be the local optional sales tax, as I mentioned, and the campaign is vote yes. So you're going to start seeing a lot of signs. So I just remind people now, because early ballots go out in about two weeks or so, flip that ballot over, in the lower right hand corner, you're going to see us tucked back there. All they have to remember is vote yes for investment in our community. Vote yes. And you'll start seeing a lot of signs around town with that on there.
Dan: Do you think we'll hear a little bit about that at the chamber breakfast, maybe just a tad?
Ted Corcoran: Well, not only our chamber, Dan, but all the other business organizations in our community, my friends at the Niceville Chamber, the Crestview Chamber, the Destin Chamber, Economic Development Council, the Building Industry Association, the Republican Women have already backed it. Every single municipality in the county has voted in favor of it unanimously. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the only initiative that our community has done that, unanimously, every single voting board and / or elected body has voted unanimously in favor of, in 100 years of our county.
Dan: So you haven't had any pushback on this at all? That's great.
Vince Mayfield: Well, I think it's a testament to how well it's been effectively done with the county's half-cent sales tax that was championed by this chamber before. People can see the projects that are going on. The county has been very, very transparent. It's been overseen by Citizen Advisory Committee, of which a member of the chamber, Matt Turpin, is on that board. And similarly, people want transparency, they want oversight, and they want accountability. And that's what we're trying to bring along with this to the school tax, the same way that was implemented with the county. And people can see the results. If go up to the Okaloosa County site, you can take a look at some of the videos, the pictures. If you look at the Facebook page, you see the things that were done there. I want people to know, too, and keep in mind, that half cent surtax for the county is very different from the half-cent surtax for the school. They're two different separate buckets of money. So don't confuse the two. Some people have said to me, " Well, we already passed the half-cent." Well, that was for the county and the municipalities. This is specifically for the school district.
Dan: And did you say this was going to be for 10 years?
Vince Mayfield: Yes, sir.
Dan: Okay. That's what I thought you said earlier. So there's a sunset on this?
Ted Corcoran: Correct. Yeah, Dan. I mean, it's 10 years. Again, it's been 25 years since we passed it. So starting, it would pass on November 3rd when everyone votes yes, and then in January of 2021 is when they start collecting the money, and then it's 10 years from there. C-E-N-T-S Makes Sense, S-E-N-S-E. And there's a website that Bit-Wizards has created that'll be up and running in the next day or so. Folks, go to that. Again, school... Or next week, I'm sure Vince will be talking with us again, but it's happening. Vote yes on November 3rd.
Dan: That sounds like a fantastic deal. These kids, they deserve it. Our community deserves it. And I think you guys are right. It's about time, just from what I've talked with Vince before, when he was going through, and I'm sure you were there Ted, going through each of the schools on a tour every week, and evaluating and looking at what the schools need. Obviously, there is a huge need there. And like you said earlier, we haven't had any major investment in our schools for so long. It is time.
Ted Corcoran: No doubt. I mean, it's just that simple. It is time to reinvest in the economy, reinvest in the schools. And all of our highly educated 1260 listeners here on the morning show, I'm just going to ask, when you get your vote by mail, or you vote early, or you vote on November 3rd, you flip that ballot over, in the lower right hand corner, vote yes and let's invest in our kids and our community for the future.
Dan: I agree. I agree. You guys are doing a great job pushing this forward. I don't know who started this, but whoever started it had a great idea and it's great to see that people are taking an interest in our community, in our schools, in our kids, and going forward. And I'm glad you haven't got the pushback. You've got support of everybody. So I think everybody's on the same page.
Ted Corcoran: We hope that 70% of the voters are on the half page. We'll never get 100%. But I just ask everyone listening today, research it. School Cents Makes Sense. Research it. Contemplate. Listen to the facts. And if you have any questions, certainly there are some places to... You can call the chamber, you can call Bit-Wizards, you can drive around town and yell out the window. We will hear you, and we will answer your questions between now and November 3rd so you are informed on the ballot.
Vince Mayfield: You can also get it a Facebook page, as well as the website, schoolcentsmakessense. com. Please go there and share with your friends. There's going to be some infographics, and flyers, and one pagers, things like that that you can do if you want to get involved. And we'd love to have you get involved. We're going to have some yard signs that are out there. Looking forward to everyone's support and answering any questions that people may have on this.
Dan: Okay. Is there going to be any forums that you guys have thought about maybe putting a forum up so people could come and listen? Or is it just going to be strictly through the internet?
Ted Corcoran: We'll see if there's a demand for it. I don't think there's a need for a forum. I'm not sure how many people came. We will look at going back to the schools. We did go to every single school in January and February, every single school in Okaloosa County, had a visit there where we reviewed the projects, talked to the SAC folks, talked to the parents that were there. Obviously, they were in full support. So we'll just see what happens. I think with the social media that Vince mentioned, et cetera, I think there'll be enough words out there that they can do the research.
Dan: Okay, cool. Just asking the question. All right.
Vince Mayfield: And Danny, I'm probably going to bring a couple more special guests on the show between now and the election, so I'll keep you apprised.
Dan: Sounds good, Vince. Appreciate that. Well, you guys, just about out of time, but again, thank you so much for talking to us about, go ahead and say the motto again. School Cents Makes Sense. Is that right?
Vince Mayfield: That is correct, sir. School Cents Makes Sense.
Dan: I got it right the first time. I'm surprised at myself. All right. On the show we have this morning, we got see the owner, part owner, anyway, of Bit-Wizards, and also now the chairman of the board for the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, Vince Mayfield and his sidekick this morning. Thank you for joining us, Ted Corcoran, the president and CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. It was great for you guys to come on and give this informative speech for all of our audience with News Talk 1260. We appreciate you guys.
Vince Mayfield: Thanks Dan. Take care.
Dan: Yes, sir. I appreciate what you're doing for our community. You guys are doing a great job. Thank you.
Vince Mayfield: Thank you.
Dan: Take care. We'll talk to you next time, Vince.
Vince Mayfield: Next time.
Dan: Bye, Ted.