School board member explains difference between 2 tax proposals to help children

ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orange County school board member said a referendum to extend the district's 1-mill tax is independent from a proposed initiative to create a children's trust fund.

Voters could decide both issues later this year.

For about eight years, Orange County property owners have paid an extra 1-mill tax to fund public schools -- something school board vice chair Linda Kobert said is vital for the district.

"That one mill equated last year to about $116 million," she said. "That pays for a lot of salaries and allows us to keep arts and music programs in all our schools."

Voters in August will have to decide whether to extend the tax another four years.

Kobert said voters could confuse the referendum with a different effort to create a children's trust.

"I think the public really needs to understand what each one is for, what they provide -- one for the school district and the other for children of Orange County in general," she said.

Earlier this week, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs expressed concern over plans for the trust, proponents of which seek to have it included on November's ballot.

Dick Batchelor, chairman of the children's trust, wants to ask voters for up to a half-mill to fund children's programs. He said putting the school district's item up for a vote on a ballot months earlier is key.

"Then we have a period of time there to which we will then introduce our campaign separate and apart, so it won't be confusing at all," he said.

While the causes are different, supporters for both acknowledge that millions in funding are on the line.

Kobert said she'll use a series of town halls to explain the stakes to voters.

There's still uncertainty about whether the trust issue will make it to the ballot.

Commissioners met earlier this week to discuss the issue, but they haven't yet decided whether to send the trust tax proposal to voters.