In preparation for the November 8th election, the Sand Paper will be contacting candidates for select offices with a question regarding a topic of interest to Island residents. Island voters will be casting ballots for three School Board seats this year: Seat 3, already decided in August, and the two at-large seats, 6 and 7. This week’s question for School Board Seat 7 candidates:
As the population of Lee County continues to grow, how can the School District keep pace with capital expenses, such as building new schools?
Cathleen Morgan’s response:
During the recession, our capital revenues decreased significantly. Property values are rising again, but capital millage is fixed by the Florida legislature at 0.50 mills less than pre-2008 levels and impact fees are unlikely to be restored by the County Commission to 2008 levels. Pursuing other strategies to grow capital resources to meet the need for a projected increase of 1,500 students annually, the Superintendent has begun using an incremental funding model–recognizing one-time unanticipated increases in property taxes on resale and allocating those funds for non-budgeted capital projects.
The School Board adopted a new policy, 9.11, that permits naming rights for School District facilities, capitalizing on the advertising value of taxpayer owned properties. A digital naming rights policy will follow shortly. The District is conducting a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) analysis of School District operations and, for operational inefficiencies, will implement changes using best business practices. Finally, the School District construction project bidding process is being evaluated for cost-effectiveness.
If, once we identify all cost saving and revenue generation opportunities, we continue to project a capital shortfall, our options become: more borrowing for construction of additional seats (a strategy that further erodes capital for technology and building maintenance), adoption of year round or split session education models with existing facilities (a decline in educational quality and opportunity), or going to referendum for public approval of increases in millage or sales tax.
Chris Quackenbush’s response:
Growing population also means a growing tax base, and increased capital funds available for building new schools. This year’s Lee County budget includes $106,810,451 for facilities acquisition and construction, a very large number.
In the Florida Constitution, the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) consists of revenues derived from the collection of the gross receipts tax on utilities, and through the issuance of bonds supported by these revenues. School districts receive PECO funds to construct new facilities. These and other local funds are also used for site acquisitions and improvements.
Several regulations have increased the cost of school construction. One is reduced class size mandated by the state. While K-3 students have been shown to benefit, there is no evidence at all that children learn more with small classes in higher grades. The quality of the teacher is the clearest indicator of success, and we have a teacher supply crisis, partly because of this regulation.
The Lee County School Board has a terrible track record and purchased land unwisely in the past at too high a cost. I have a degree in real estate investment and construction management and could bring much better oversight of this problem. We need to plan carefully, prioritize based on numbers and live within our budget, as all taxpayers must.