"Make It So!" is a core value at Bit-Wizards. Many consider Star Trek's Captain Piccard the quintessential, new age leader in contrast to Captain Kirk's devil may care approach," Damn the Torpedo's, Full Speed Ahead!" At Bit-Wizards, "Make It So!" is meant not as a command. Instead, we intend to instill a bias towards action by our team.
During my installation as Chair, one statement I said resonated with many of you." To run a successful business, you have to have relentless persistence, embrace change, be willing to take risks, and have a bias towards execution."
Execution is critical. It separates" talkers" from" doers." There is no doubt the people in the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce are "doers." We execute!
During January, "The Chamber" is "Making It So!" and taking action to enhance the schools in Okaloosa County. We have partnered with community-minded businesses and the Destin Chamber of Commerce to offer our support and "Lead the Chaaarrge!" (Matt Turpin) on a much needed half-cent tax to revitalize our schools.
Michelle Anchors (Anchors & Gordon) and Barbara Britt (Barbara Britt LLC), are at the front of our business community-led effort. They are serving as the spokespersons for our campaign "School Cents Make Sense." Barabra serves on my executive committee, was a career educator, and is a retired Okaloosa County Teacher. Michelle is a passionate advocate for making our community and quality of life exceptional.
Ranking #4 in the state, our schools produce superior educational results. OCSD is one of only three school districts in the state of Florida to earn an A in the past six years. From an operations and maintenance standpoint, the school district is lean and mean.
Unfortunately, for the better part of 40 years, there has been little to no capital investment. Our school infrastructure and facilities are falling apart. In the wake of the tragic events at Parkland, the Florida Legislature has mandated the hardening of school facilities, as well as other security enhancements. They have done so without adequately funding those capital improvements. As a technology professional, I cringe every time I look at the dated technology utilized in our classrooms. I know because my wife is a teacher. I have seen it first hand. The need for the half-cent school tax is dire.
From the 2019 Audited Financial Statements for the OCSD:
"School facility hardening has become a critical need in order to ensure student safety. As a result, it has become the number one priority for most school districts, placing a tremendous demand for capital outlay dollars. In addition, the District's capital maintenance requirements are significant since approximately 40 percent of its facilities are more than 50 years old, and another 40 percent are more than 40 years old. The District continues to experience consistent student growth while receiving virtually no increase in capital outlay funding. As a result, adequate capital outlay funding continues to be of great concern to the District."
The condition of Okaloosa County Schools is a problem for our businesses. Schools are economic drivers. At a national level, there have been many scholarly studies based on actual data that demonstrates better schools yield a higher GDP. At a local level, having high-quality schools that meet the needs of the 21st Century is paramount to our economy. A community is unlikely to have a vibrant economy when they have schools that are falling apart, use old technology, have leaking roofs, and rely on portable classrooms. For 40 years, we have asked the schools in Okaloosa County to band-aid our aging facilities in favor of the status quo and lower taxes.
Nobody wants a collapsed locker room ceiling, leaking roofs, crumbling stadiums, portable classrooms, or an 82-year-old elementary school. There is little doubt that our hard-working teachers and students deserve better.
Local economies flourish when there are skilled and productive workers. It produces higher wages, economic mobility, and a better quality of life. We need a workforce now and in the future to sustain businesses in Okaloosa County. We need happy, well adjusted, and well-educated children who become adults that will live, work and take part in our local economy.
School building conditions are clear indicators of investment in a community. This investment ultimately has the most significant effect on businesses in our area. Old, dilapidated schools that are falling apart send a message to the of underinvestment and lack of opportunity in our area. This message goes out to key participants in the economic sustainability and vitality of our community. They include:
Businesses that are looking to move to our area
Potential professionals looking to move to our community
Entrepreneurs who are looking to start new businesses here in our community
Military looking to retire or separate from the service and remain in our area
Military leadership concerned about the sustainability of the military mission in our community
The conditions of our schools is not a new issue. Continuous chatter about the state of our schools has been a topic of our community for the past fifteen years. Our response has been to tell the school district to "sharpen the pencil." I submit, it takes little effort to be a Monday Morning quarterback or spout off as a Facebook warrior unarmed with real data and information.
The fact is that Florida has nationally received an F grade in its funding of K-12 schools and ranks 43rd out of 50 states in per-pupil spending. From 2008-2015 the percentage of state funding in Florida per student, inflation-adjusted, decreased 22.0%. Compared to 2008, adjusting for inflation, Okaloosa Schools are asked to do more with even less. They are trying to squeeze water out of stone. Doing nothing is not an option. It is time for action.
The condition of our schools is a problem for business. It is a community problem that ultimately affects our economy, and we are way overdue for investment. For all these reasons, "The Chamber" is taking on the half-cent tax for our schools with other partners in the community. Our Chamber is providing the leadership and advocacy to make a real impact today and tomorrow in Okaloosa County! Make it So!
Read this article in the February Coastlines.