FORT WALTON BEACH — The kitchen for Edwins Elementary School’s cafeteria is currently being cooled by the fifth or sixth air conditioning system that’s been installed during cook Mary Sheheane’s time on the job.


RELATED: School Board supports proposed tax


She’s now in her sixth year at the school.


"We don’t have (any) heat," Sheheane added on Tuesday.



The overall infrastructure of the school, which turns 65 years old this year, features numerous other lowlights: Ceiling tiles are stained by rain from leaky roofs. An outside walkway has several patched cracks. Food-freezer floors and ramps are corroded. Student backpacks must be stored outside on pegs because every square inch of classroom space is already in use.


And then there are the portables. Edwins has 10 of them, and they remind local attorney Michelle Anchors of classroom facilities for inmates at the Florida State Prison near Jacksonville.


Anchors and other members of the local business community have formed the "School Cents Makes Sense" political action committee. It plans to have a half-cent sales tax referendum placed on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.


If approved by a majority of voters, the 10-year tax would generate an estimated $20 million annually to benefit the capital needs of Okaloosa County’s public schools. The money would be spent on projects such as repairs to school roofs, the replacement of portable classrooms with brick-and-mortar ones, and upgrades to the district’s bus fleet.


The half-penny sales tax campaign received the county School Board’s support on Monday and officially kicked off Tuesday at Edwins Elementary. That’s where Anchors and other referendum backers detailed the need for the tax and toured the school.


"I know firsthand the negative effects outdated infrastructure has on Okaloosa County schools," said Rachel Allen, a ninth-grade student at Fort Walton Beach High School who was invited by Anchors to speak at Tuesday’s event. "I love my teachers and I love my school, and I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but I can go from a freezing classroom one period, where everyone’s cold, to an extremely hot classroom the next period, where it’s so hot the teacher has to have the fan running all day."


Overall, "In their current condition, our decades-old schools just aren’t what they need to be in order to provide good learning environments," Allen said.


Anchors said a list of each school’s priorities will be provided to the School Board this spring. From Jan. 28 through March 5, the School Cents Makes Sense group will lead capital-needs discussions at each school and give tours of each school for the public.


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