Dewey Destin: "Of course, we need the money desperately, but I'm not sure it was going to pass. There is just too much controversy."

NICEVILLE — The Okaloosa County School Board voted Monday to rescind the half-cent sales tax referendum to help fund the School District's infrastructure needs.

The School Board made its decision after Michelle Anchors, a representative for a political action committee responsible for raising money for the mail-in ballots, asked for the referendum to be postponed.

Anchors said the reason was because of the plethora of investigations of the that emerged after the group's decision to help support the tax, which was scheduled for a mail-in ballot next May.

"I've tried to look at the community's focus right now, which is not on infrastructure needs but elsewhere on some issues that rightly need to be addressed," Anchors said. "Just like we don't swim in the Gulf when there are double red flags, I shouldn't ask people for a tax when we have double red flags." 

The School Board faces numerous legal and public relations challenges that include the State Attorney's Office investigation into former Kenwood Elementary teacher Marlynn Stillions, who was arrested Sept. 13 on four felony counts of child abuse without great bodily harm. The case, which was not revealed until May this year, centered on the treatment of a then 4-year-old non-verbal child with autism. Arrested the same day on felony counts for failure to report suspected child abuse were former Kenwood principal Angelyn Vaughan and School District investigator Arden Farley.

There also are two active investigations into a harassment complaint against district spokesman Henry Kelley and sexual harassment allegations against a district employee, Stephen Hall. Yet another controversy involves a federal lawsuit at Baker School for racial harassment.

School Board member Rodney Walker said the initial strategy was for the fundraising committee to not include School District personnel. Walker said he was told the group assigned to the task, however, was finding it difficult to get donors to "jump on the bandwagon."

Board member Dewey Destin said the sales tax will likely have to wait until the general election in November 2018.

"Of course we need the money desperately, but I'm not sure it was going to pass," Destin said. "There is just too much controversy." 

The sales tax, which was projected to generate $15 million to $18 million each year, would have been spent on replacing portable classrooms with permanent ones, fixing roofs and air conditioners, and buying school buses.

One example given would have been to purchase more buses for Florosa Elementary School to minimize conflicts with the bus schedule and Hurlburt Field's rush hours.

The proposal for a Destin high school also relied on the half-cent sales tax.

Anchors said despite the issues, she hopes the sales tax will be pushed forward at a later time. For now, she said, it's up to the community to place children as the No. 1 priority and find additional support for public schools.

"The additional revenue will long outlast any current political problems or current elected officials," Anchors said. "It's too important for it to die on the vine just because the public's focus is rightfully on other school concerns at this time."