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Martin School District to move from Ocean Avenue location to former Stuart News building on Federal Highway

STUART – The Martin County School Board voted unanimously June 18 to ratify the $7.5 million purchase agreement for the 96,000-square-foot former headquarters of the Stuart News on Federal Highway that the District will use to consolidate is operations currently divided between 500 E. Ocean Blvd. and 1050 E. 10th St.

The Board had formally approved the purchase March 26 but had the last 90 days to do its due diligence and determine whether to proceed with the purchase. Both Chairwoman Christia Li Roberts and District 2 Board Member Marsha Powers had insisted during the March meeting on the need for a renovation budget/timeline and consolidation plan presented to the Board by early June in order to make a more informed decision.

Chairwoman Roberts said during the latest meeting that School Board staff had provided the required information during the May 7 and June 4 workshops.

“The District has been working on providing a centralized District office for many years and has allocated capital funding over the past years to develop one centralized office,” she said. “The property is located at 1939 S.E. Federal Highway and will meet the District's needs now and in the future.”

The chairwoman also wanted to clarify exactly how the District planned on paying for its new headquarters to eliminate any possible misconceptions about the funding.

“I would like to point out, and it’s because we need to keep repeating this, there are two pots of money,” Ms. Roberts said. “There’s the operating pot of money, and there’s the capital pot of money. This is coming from the capital pot of money. The capital pot of money does not pay for salaries, so this has nothing to do with salaries.”

“And this is not as a result of the sales tax,” interjected District 2 Board Member Marsha Powers. “It was the commitment by the Board and the superintendent over the years.”

Chairwoman Roberts concurred, emphasizing that the District had previously compared different sites and scenarios and had postponed the relocation decision in order to not distract from the education millage referendum last August and the half-cent sales tax referendum in November, both of which passed.

“Over a year ago the Board was discussing whether they should put a building here, whether they should put a building on Martin Luther King, there was a discussion about partnering with the city, partnering with the county, all of that type of thing,” she said. “The Board decided that all of those discussions would be put on hold and the needs of our students would come first.”

Ms. Roberts emphasized the additional .5 mil in property tax revenue – which the District previously had until about 10 years ago – would help it more adequate pay its teachers.

“Thank you very much to the voters of Martin County because those things are all being taken care of with the sales tax money,” she said referring to the planned construction of two new elementary schools for about $64 million. “So, this is a different pot of money; this has nothing to do with salaries. Salaries comes from the operation pot of money, and this is a capital pot of money.”

After the unanimous ratification, District 5 Board Member Michael DiTerlizzi thanked the chairwoman for her explanations, which he insisted were very much needed.

“I’ve had several calls and several opportunities to speak to constituents regarding the two pots of money, and there’s some confusion out there regarding where the money came from,” he said. “With our transparency and with our discussions and the conversations I’ve had, there’s great clarity out there now, and I appreciate that opportunity you took to do that.”

For her part, Chairwoman Roberts acknowledged the effort put forth by School District Chief Financial Officer Audra Curts-Whann to form and inaugurate the separate Millage Oversight and Sales Tax Oversight committees that will ensure the sales tax and property tax proceeds are spent exactly as promised to voters.

“I’d also like to thank our chief financial officer,” she said. “I know that yesterday was the first of the oversite committees and I believe next week is the second one. As everybody may remember, the Board, in presenting these referendums to the voters, was very specific as to what the money would be used for. That’s all been designated, and there are two different oversight committees that are looking to meet on a quarterly basis to be dealing with oversite to make sure the money is being used appropriately.”

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