PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Ahead of early voting next week, the controversy over the school tax referendum vote is taking a new turn.
A radio advertisement made its debut on Friday morning on local air waves, calling out Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt to the tune of a popular country rock song.
“Mr. Husfelt went to the voters, he was lookin’ for some funds to steal,” the tune sings, later calling Husfelt’s intentions for the tax into question.
“I bet a tax increase will pass with ease cause I know I’m smarter than you,” it sings.
Husfelt said he’s not interested in negative campaigning.
“I have to role-model for 25 thousand students and for our community,” he said. “I’m not going to get into name-calling or making fun of people.”
The new one minute radio ad, paid for by Bay County Taxpayers L.L.C., was created by organizer Dr. Jon Ward, a local resident leading the opposition campaign. He said he wanted something catchy and creative to get his message across to voters.
“Do you trust the superintendent,” he asked. “Do you trust that we need the money and the money isn’t already there?”
Ward contends the tax is an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, and that funding for employee pay increases can be found somewhere else in the budget.
“I would say that we can find the ways to pay the staff more money,” Ward said.
Association of Bay County Educators Vice President, Alexis Underwood, said it’s harder to find that money in the budget than it may seem.
“If Dr. Ward is passionately concerned about the budgets of Bay County, that’s interesting,” Underwood said. “I’ve never seen him in a budget meeting. I’ve never heard him email a question.”
She said current funding can only be used for limited purposes, and in many cases, salary increases are not allowed through that funding, making it harder to find paraprofessionals like bus drivers, substitute teachers, and other staff required to run schools successfully.
“People that want to work in education can’t afford to come and service the children in our community because they can make more money down the road at a retail establishment,” she said.
When it comes to the new ad, Underwood isn’t impressed, saying it’s not based in fact and makes bold accusations of Superintendent Husfelt.
“If that’s the kind of ad they choose to run in our community, they must feel that they’re about to lose,” she said. “That’s why they’re bringing out what they see as their ‘big guns’ and beginning to sling innuendo about character and reputation rather than a discussion of the facts.”
A debate over the new school tax referendum will be taking place on Tuesday, April 13th, after early voting begins on Monday.