NICEVILLE — Okaloosa County School Board member Melissa Thrush presented a passionate, thoughtful and well researched argument Thursday in favor of finding an additional funding source for a School District in desperate need of an infrastructure overhaul.

No one at the School Board workshop disagreed the district has too many needs to address without the financial infusion an additional half-cent sales tax would provide. Board member Dewey Destin called the district’s needs “clear and compelling.”

But Destin also pointed out that there was a reason the board had decided five months ago not to pursue a referendum to ask voters to hike the local sales tax.

“We voted to take this issue off the ballot five months ago because our community partners told us it was going no where, that they couldn’t raise the money nor could they get the support,” Destin said.

“What’s happened in five months to improve the situation?” Destin asked. “I would say nothing has happened to improve it and, in fact, things have happened to cause it to be worse.”

The School Board voted in November of 2017 to shelve the idea of pursuing a sales tax hike.

They did so after a political action committee formed to help sell the concept to voters told board members that a scandal engulfing the district had angered potential voters.

“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,” committee spokeswoman Michelle Anchors told the School Board.

Since then:

• Stacie Smith, School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson’s assistant superintendent for human resources, became the fourth district employee arrested on felony charges.

• A grand jury found Jackson had “failed” in her obligation to watch over the safety and well-being of 30,000 children in her care and ordered the State Attorneys Office to continue its criminal investigation of the superintendent.

• A lawsuit was filed against the district by Eddie Perillo, whose son the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office says was abused at the hands of a special needs teacher.

• Its former spokesman, Henry Kelley, has been ordered to pay a $500 fine for violating the Florida Sunshine Law.

“I’m talking to people since this (revisiting the sales tax issue) came up, and asked people would you donate or would you take part in a committee to move this thing forward,” Destin told fellow board members Thursday. “I’ve received a resounding no.”

It was board member Tim Bryant who asked April 5 that the School Board reconsider its decision to postpone the sales tax vote.

Bryant was away on School Board business and was not at Thursday’s workshop. He will be present Monday when the School Board could vote to hold the sales tax referendum in the general election Nov. 6, Jackson said.

Thrush had been requested to validate comments that she’d made previously: That Okaloosa County had the state’s oldest school buildings and its bus fleet also was among the oldest.

She produced figures showing that 64 percent of the total square footage of Okaloosa County’s schools are more than 41 years old. She also had numbers to show that 30 percent of the district’s buses are more than 20 years old.

Thrush also provided an analysis showing that Okaloosa is one of just six counties in Florida that doesn’t use a local option sales tax to support its school district, and the only one of the six that doesn’t charge impact fees in lieu of the sales tax.

Some Florida counties have three funding sources dedicated to paying for the upkeep of their schools, Thrush said.

Thrush pointed out that Okaloosa stands at a property taxing disadvantage because so much of its land area is encompassed by Eglin Air Force Base, and that homestead exemptions also impact the dollars being collected annually to support schools.

The passion was evident in Thrush’s voice as she outlined the importance that healthy school districts hold in their community. She choked up as she described local students walking home from school “in the middle of the road” because there are no sidewalks for them to use.

School Board Chairman Lamar White posed several questions to school district officials. He said he personally still feels the pain of the resounding defeat the School Board was handed when it last tried to pass a sales tax in 2010 and, like Destin, said he questioned the timing of a November referendum.

“There’s no question we need the revenue that we’d generate,” he said. “Needs don’t win elections.”

Jackson produced a poll conducted for the district that she said indicated county voters were leaning favorably in support of a sales tax to benefit schools. One of the poll's findings, she told School Board members, is that voters in Destin tended to be strongly in favor.

White asked if the grand scheme of School district improvements would include a “high school in Destin,” and if that could be a selling point to use in a November referendum.

Jackson said the “high school” idea is actually a plan to renovate an existing middle school to accommodate sixth- through 12th-graders. She said that the expansion of the middle school would become reality if the sales tax referendum passed.

Thrush and Destin — board member Rodney Walker was absent along with Bryant — said they would not favor a referendum that promised Destin voters the upgrades they desire.

“Discussion of a high school in Destin is putting the cart before the horse,” Thrush said. “I want to see it prioritized against other needs.”

Destin suggested as an alternative to seeking a sales tax hike in November that the School district form a committee to begin laying the groundwork for a referendum at a later date.

“I think if we move forward with this we won’t have the community support to move that needle,” he said. “We’re going to lose, and I don’t want to lose.”