MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — When voters head to the polls in Martin County on Aug. 23, they'll have to decide whether to continue a special property tax to support the school district.
The millage rate referendum approved in 2018 is set to expire, and without renewing it, the Martin County School District said it will be out almost $50 million over the next four years.
The referendum funds everything from teacher pay to school safety and mental health, just to name a few. If it doesn’t pass, officials said it could have big impacts on schools and the students they serve.
School counselor Laira Hodowanic loves the time she spends in the classroom with Crystal Lake Elementary School students.
But Hodowanic doesn't get to do it as often as she'd like, because she's doing a second job keeping track of student needs for academic and behavioral support.
"I work with students and teachers and parents and we identify the areas where students need support, and we do that by looking at data," Hodowanic said.
Those needs have only grown over the past two years.
"There was an increase in anxiety with students after they returned to school," Hodowanic said.
"There are a lot of challenges and barriers we’ve had to face post-pandemic," said Krystle Welch, the prevention and intervention program specialist for the Martin County School District. "Our district recognizes that it’s critical to increase the amount of support at schools."
That's why the school district hopes to fund an additional 10 support positions, along with several other mental health initiatives, through the millage rate referendum on the Aug. 23 ballot.
"Supporting the referendum allows us to focus on our students more. Not just their academic needs, but we can look closer at the whole child," Hodowanic said.
If passed, Martin County property owners would see up to one half-mill on their property tax bill designated for the Martin County School District with this special tax.
District leaders released a chart showing that if you have a homestead exemption, you will actually see a decrease in school property taxes.
Still, some people took to the Martin County School District's Facebook page to stand against the referendum, saying things like, "No more taxes. Not now. Not ever."
School leaders said every student they can help creates a ripple effect in the classroom.
"If I'm able to support a student's behavior, then the teacher is able to focus on the other students," Hodowanic said. "There aren’t disruptions, or the disruptions are less frequent."
The tax is expected to bring in more than $13 million in its first year, if approved. More than $12 million of that will go toward teacher and support staff pay.
For more information about the millage rate referendum and how the money would be used by the Martin County School District, click here.