The News-Press published an opinion article by Jane E. Kuckel. Kuckel is a Lee County School Board member on September 16, 2018 headlined: I tell you why you should vote for Lee County schools sale tax
Here is my rebuttal point by point: (Ms. Kuckel comments in blue)
The School District of Lee County is projected to grow between 1,500-2,000 students per year over the next 10 years. That is the equivalent of one new high school each year. The average statewide cost of a new high school is more than $65 million.
The average cost of a new high school has grown to more than $65 million because school boards are willing and able to pay that much. If we give the Lee County School District more money they will be willing and able to pay even more. If the number of students are growing, than the number of families moving to Lee County must be growing. Each of these families will be paying taxes. If the schools don’t get their share, it is the fault of other government officials not the general public.
While the district student population has grown exponentially, the money to build and maintain schools has declined exponentially, from $318 million in 2007 to $118 million last year.
The decline in capital funding from $318 million in 2007 to $118 million last year is not due to the general public, and certainly not due to the tourist who would have to pay the extra sales tax. Why look for a remedy from the taxpayers, when the decline is due to the priorities set by government officials.
The capital fund must also pay for:
Technology purchases and upgrades.
Everyday maintenance and repair for 110 school facilities.
Purchase and maintenance of a 700-plus bus fleet
Safety and security improvements — our first priority.
Again, whose fault is it that the capital fund must pay for the items she listed.
Last year, the district spent $52 million in “mortgage” payments for previous schools which had to be built with borrowed money due to inadequate capital funding. That’s $52 million of taxpayer dollars that went to pay back loans rather than to our students.
When the “mortgage” was started, the School District must have ear-marked a revenue stream to pay the debt service. Whose fault is it they chose an unreliable revenue stream, certainly not the taxpayers.
We have nearly $80M in needed building repairs and replacements, like HVAC systems and roofs, and we do not have the money to replace them.
Responsible purchasers of assets, understand there are funds needed to maintain the assets. A revenue stream for meeting those maintenance costs should have been established when the schools were built. If that was not done, it is the irresponsible government officials who did that not the taxpayers.
we need six new schools, just to keep up with previous growth. Right now, we have 177 trailers serving as makeshift classrooms for students in high growth areas across the district.
The School District has a static view of what is needed for education. With the advent of the internet, it is proven that high school students do not need to go to school everyday. As technology improves it should require less brick and mortar schools to serve the public, not more. It is the concentration of students in school buildings that create the safety and security issues that the government is now trying to fix by making schools armed camps. We need new solutions, not new sources of money.
We are not in this position because we have mismanaged money. We are not in this position because we have spent unwisely. We are in this position simply because our growth is outpacing our funding.
If other school districts in the state and country are providing adequate education with the tax money they have been given, that might be an indication that the Lee Country School District could better manage their money.
The quality of schools is the biggest economic driver in any community because:
- It impacts the ability to attract high wage businesses to Lee County.
- It impacts the District’s ability to educate students so that we can provide highly skilled employees to our local employers.
- It impacts your property values.
The purpose of the School District is not to encourage more economic activity in the community. Many Lee County residents don’t welcome more economic activity. The effect on the economy should not be a reason for increased funding of the schools.
There are only five other Florida counties that are growing like we are, yet we are the only one that does not have a surtax.
My mother told me that “everyone else is doing it” is not a good rational for trying to steal more money from the public.