Board Member Message

Jane E. Kuckel, PhD, School Board Member, District 6The upcoming November 6 ballot includes an item that will affect all of Lee County for years, maybe decades to come.

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 cost of a new high school statewide? $65M dollars.

The attached bar graph represents the District’s Capital Fund budget over the last 10 years. The red part of each bar denotes impact fee revenue, the orange illustrates state funds, and the green represents property tax and other local funds.

In contrast, the white line across the top shows our student growth over the last 10 years. While the district’s student population has grown exponentially, the money to build and maintain schools has declined, from $318M in 2007 to $118M last year.

I know that $118M sounds like a lot of money, but, in addition to building new schools, we also must pay for things like

  • new busses to replace outdated ones;
  • everyday maintenance and repairs for 110 school facilities;
  • technology purchases and upgrades;
  • safety and security improvements which are our first priority; and 
  • debt retirement.

That debt retirement figure is more than $52M. We took on debt to build new schools because of the decrease in capital funding.

We could continue to borrow, and increase the amount we pay to banks rather than reinvesting in our infrastructure, but all that does is further defer maintenance.

Removing the debt service from our capital budget last year left us $64M. We have nearly $80M in building components, like HVAC systems and roofs that are past their service life. We do not have the money to replace them.

In addition, we need six new schools. Right now, we have 177 trailers serving as makeshift classrooms for students in high growth areas across the district. Not only are trailers inferior classroom facilities, they are a safety and security risk. They are not bulletproof and during severe weather conditions, students must be evacuated.

We also need to rebuild two of our older schools that are falling apart, and add an addition to Lehigh Senior High School. These are facility needs from previous years of growth and do not include future enrollment increases.

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.

The quality of schools is the biggest economic driver in any community.

  • It impacts the ability to attract businesses to Lee County that offer high wages;
  • It impacts the District’s ability to educate students so we can provide highly skilled employees to our local employers; andIt impacts your property values.

There are only five other Florida counties that are growing as we are, yet we are only one that does not have a surtax.
If passed, the half-penny can only be used for capital expenditures—new construction, maintenance, safety and security, and technology. None of money can be used for salaries or everyday operations.

The tax lasts only 10 years, and built into the language of the referendum, is an independent community oversight committee which will review every expenditure for compliance and report back to taxpayers on a quarterly basis.

We can no longer allow others to limit the education opportunities and quality of life in Lee County.

Not only do our students deserve the best possible education, but the community deserves the strongest economy possible - and that comes with quality education.

Sincerely,

Jane E. Kuckel, School Board Member, District 6

Jane E. Kuckel, PhD, School Board Member, District 6

Capital Funding Declines as Enrollment Increases