Fact vs. Myth

Change for Change
Fact 1: Improvements in Student Achievements
Fact 2: Job Opportunities and a Better Educated Workforce
Economic Health of the Community Workforce
Fact 4: Better Prepared for Natural Disasters

The school capital outlay surtax would fund projects in new construction, reconstruction, improvement of existing school facilities, safety and security improvements and technology upgrades.

What would the additional funds raised through a sales tax be used for?

The school capital outlay surtax would fund projects for

  • New construction,
  • Reconstruction,

Improvement of existing school facilities,

  • Safety and security improvements, and technology upgrades.

The tax is estimated to raise approximately $59 million per year.

 

Why is it important to fund the projects on the sales tax project list?

  • Needed updates to school infrastructure will save operational dollars in the future; updates to items like roofs, windows, and building structure will save on energy costs, help use operational tax dollars more efficiently, and redirect funds to the classroom
  • Increased safety brings a level of comfort to students, staff, and community, increasing the likelihood of an environment that fosters high quality education
  • Strengthened schools will allow the community to be better prepared for natural disasters
  • New schools will improve efficiency in transportation and prevent overcrowding of current schools, again increasing the opportunity for an environment that increases student achievement
  • Studies show investment in school facilities lead to improvements in student achievement

High quality schools promote economic prosperity for all; increased job opportunities, property value growth, and a better educated workforce

Why is there a need for additional funds for capital for the School District of Lee County?

Beginning in 2008, the school district's tax roll decreased over 40%, while tax rates dropped 25%, from 2.0 to 1.5. In addition, other capital funding from state sources was either eliminated or significantly reduced, and impact fees were reduced between 45-80%. The resulting impact of all these changes was a reduction of annual capital funding of over $200 million per year. At the same time, student population grew (and continues to grow) one to two percent per year, approximately 1,500-2,000 students. That growth is the equivalent of one school each year! We predict we will need 7 new schools in the next five years. The combination of aggressive growth and funding reductions created a situation where existing funding is not enough to keep up with the need for new schools to accommodate our rapid growth, and sustain the maintenance and upgrades that are desperately needed in our existing aging facilities.

Why doesn't the district just cut expenses?

The District has done just that. In the capital budget, we refinanced debt, saving almost $27 million, reduced contractual services, prioritized energy savings initiatives to improve energy costs saving $38 million, reduced the budget for maintenance of schools by 36%, and cut $2.9 million in transportation costs alone over the past two years. However, the significant reductions we have made do not cover the substantial shortfall. In FY17 we had $118 million in our capital budget. $54 million was used to pay debt that we incurred because we didn’t have enough funding to build new buildings to keep up with growth. That left just $64 million. Currently we have nearly $80 million in air conditioning systems and roofs that are past their lifespan. The more we reduce the capital budget, the more strain we put on our current buildings.

If the district stopped wasting money, surely we would have enough to build schools?

In August, 2018 Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability lauded the School District of Lee County for our “economical, effective and efficient” operations. The praise came in the form of an efficiency audit they were required to perform by the state. In 2006, the same agency awarded the District the Seal of Best Financial Management. These commendations reflect a long term commitment to efficiency and financial management. For many years the District has received consistent, clean audit reports from state and federal agencies and we maintain a credit rating of Aa2, which exceeds the U.S. school district median of Aa3.

Rather than building new schools, why don't we just send kids to schools with lower enrollment?

The capacity of our other schools with lower enrollment (mostly in the West Zone) is not enough to cover the anticipated growth. In addition, we could not justify the increased cost of busing students from distant neighborhoods, and the increased time on buses for kids in order to accommodate this option.

 

Who pays this tax?

Everyone who buys taxable goods in Lee County would be subject to the half cent tax, including tourists. An estimated 25-35% of these funds would come from tourist activities, creating a sustainable funding source that is created by a wide base of taxpayers beyond our local property owners. And remember, necessities like food and medicine continue to be tax exempt as they are with the current sales tax. For large purchases, only the first $5,000 of the purchase is subject to the additional sales tax. 61 out of 67 counties in Florida have an additional sales surtax.

 

How much will this tax cost me?

A family of four with income of $50,000 would pay an estimated $64 per year; that's 17 cents a day.

 

Will this tax last forever?

The proposal voters are asked to approve will create a sales tax for ten years. After that ten years, the tax will sunset unless another tax is approved.

 

What about the lottery money?

Lottery proceeds help schools meet class size requirements and fund school recognition and improvement programs. Our District will receive about $3.5 million this year in school recognition and improvement funds – enough to run the school system for less than one day. In addition, when the lottery was created, state funding decreased.

The School Board has continuously raised our taxes. How much money do they need?

The School Board has actually not raised the tax rate for years. The total School Board tax rate has gone down every year but one since 2011.

 

What would happen if the School District did not get the sales tax?

The school district would have to increase borrowing in order to fund additional schools, and increase busing time to transport children to existing schools, diverting money away from the classroom. Needed maintenance and renovations on existing buildings would continue to be deferred due to lack of revenue, eventually costing more in the future due to building and equipment failures. The school district currently spends between $49 and $54 million per year in debt. Failure to get a new funding source will mean increasing the amount spent on debt, reducing the amount available for maintenance at existing schools.

 

Why should I support this tax? Especially if I have no children or grandchildren that attend district schools?

An investment in public education ultimately improves the community around you. Many businesses and highly skilled professionals relocate to regions based on the merits of a school system. A successful, high-quality public education system is a major driver of economic development, promoting higher incomes, better jobs, less crime and increased property values. Plus, the students we are educating today, will be your doctors, auto mechanics, financial advisors, pharmacists and other professionals of tomorrow.

How will I know if the school district is doing what it says it will do with the money?

Language on the ballot for this initiative includes the creation of an independent oversight committee which will have complete access to all the records necessary to ensure that the money is being spent as promised.

Are you raising property taxes?

Passage of the referendum would not result in any increase to property taxes.

Why can't the school District take out another loan?

This year the School District of Lee County spent $54 million on debt payments. This will increase to $65 million with the financing of Bonita Springs High School and building addition at Lehigh Senior High School. The failure to identify a new funding source could mean adding hundreds of millions of dollars to the debt load, which means even more money going to banks, rather than towards your child’s education. In addition, those dollars come out of the capital fund, which means there would be less money to provide crucial maintenance in our current buildings.

This referendum is a question on investment in our children and in our community's future.

For questions and concerns please email:
changeforchange@leeschools.net