Thank You Lee County

Thank You Lee County
Posted on 11/20/2023
Dr. Christopher Bernier

This week provides a fitting moment for gratitude and expressing thanks to our community.  On behalf of the School Board and all School District employees, I extend a heartfelt thank you for your continued support as we strive to maintain a world-class school system, ensuring each child reaches their highest potential.

Five years ago, you demonstrated trust in the School District by approving a half-cent sales tax to support our capital needs during a challenging financial period.  State funding cuts had significantly reduced our capital improvement revenue by $1.77 billion in the previous decade. The District struggled to keep up with student growth and  maintain school buildings properly.

We made promises through a School Board approved referendum project list to prioritize student safety. Every item on that list, from access control to robust surveillance systems, and hardened classroom doors to single points of entry, has been completed or is in progress. This year, the sales tax is facilitating the installation of OPENGATE weapons detection technology at our school entrances.

Another commitment was to accommodate our growing student population. We promised three new schools in the East Zone and have built Gateway High School, Lehigh Acres Middle School and Amanecer Elementary. We also expanded Lehigh Senior High School and opened a fourth new school by renovating Lemuel Teal Middle for  today’s needs. We anticipated needing two new schools in the South Zone, but when student growth stalled in that area, we shifted the schools to the still expanding East Zone and now have a middle and high school in the initial planning phase.  We pledged to rebuild Franklin Park Elementary, and that promise is underway.  Once completed in August, we will commence the promised rebuild of Cypress Lake Middle School.

Maintaining high quality educational facilities was a paramount commitment. 31 schools have had their air conditioners replaced or upgraded. 20 schools have new or improved roofs, and 11 schools boast storm-resistant windows.  We have also addressed flooring and cabinet upgrades, fire alarm and electrical system improvements, and the addition of new lighting and covered walkways. All of it was done without using your sales tax dollars to recover from Hurricane ian. The impact of these improvements on creating an environment conducive to learning cannot be overstated.

Our stated commitment to preparing students for the future through technology is evident in our use of sales tax revenue. This funding was the critical link which allowed us to provide every student with a Chromebook for remote learning or use at home. This year, we are completing the installation of interactive Promethean Boards in all our schools, engaging students in learning and enhancing understanding.

Upon completion, our commitment doesn't waver. Outdated technology will be refreshed or replaced over the next five years, and ongoing maintenance is essential to keep our school buildings in good condition. Renovations are underway at Riverdale High School, as are expansions at Fort Myers and Cape Coral Technical College. Additional new schools included in our 10-year capital plan are supported by the sales tax. You can track these projects at your child’s school through the Sales Tax Dashboard on the School District’s website.

Throughout this journey, the Independent Sales Surtax Oversight Committee diligently monitors spending to ensure our community can trust that their tax dollars are spent in accordance with the referendum. I am pleased to report that they consistently determine the District is meeting its obligations.

Every day, our students at every school, and consequently our future, benefit from the half-cent sales tax. We are humbled, grateful, and especially this week, thankful.

The content and any opinions expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the facts, opinions, and beliefs of  the School Board of Lee County or its affiliates.