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School board again debates the reallocation referendum

By Staff | Feb 11, 2009

Members of the Lee County School Board disagreed Tuesday with how the district could secure funds to salvage the next school year, as well as subsequent years.
Board Member Robert Chilmonik proposed a reallocation referendum, first introduced to the board last year by Raymond Rodrigues, a budget director at Florida Gulf Coast University and former candidate for school board. The measure would allow funds to be transferred from the district’s $512 million capital account to the operating account used for day-to-day expenditures.
“The time to act is now,” said Chilmonik. “We have been discussing this referendum shift for over a year.”
Chilmonik said his main concern for supporting the referendum is to protect teachers from losing their jobs or to prevent cuts to district programs in art, music and athletics.
Vice Chairman Steve Teuber seconded the motion Tuesday, but said he was not going to vote for the referendum because it is not fiscally sound. Only three members were present at the meeting and two voted against Chilmonik’s motion.
“Mr. Chilmonik, you are bringing forward an idea not only financially unsound, but costly to our taxpayers,” said Teuber. “You continue to bring forward an idea that only sounds good in the media.”
According to Teuber, funds in the capital account have been depleted by the state and a reallocation referendum would leave the district in a position where it could not afford its own debt service. He also said it is a burden on the taxpayer to shoulder the $400,000 price tag associated with a referendum.
Earlier in the action meeting, Chilmonik voted against a proposal to purchase more than $1 million worth of new furniture for the district — a purchase that would have come from the capital account.
Teuber said the board has been working with legislators to pass House Bill 803, and he claimed the entire board and superintendent have been working on the bill with the exception of Chilmonik.
“We have been working hard to push through House Bill 803, which will give us twice the flexibility and won’t cost us a dime,” said Teuber.
According to HB 803, “Each district school board is given flexibility to expand in its operating budget as nonrecurring funds up to 0.5 mill of its non-voted capital improvement millage levied.”
Chilmonik said he supports the creation of the bill in the Legislature, but added it is unknown whether it will pass during the next session. Instead, he supports going ahead with the shifting of funds on the county level.
“This is an unknown and we don’t know if it is going to pass,” said Chilmonik. “If we work in this county with our taxpayers, I think we can get it (the reallocation referendum) passed.”
The Collier County School District passed its own version of a reallocation referendum in November and subsequently transferred $16 million from its capital to operating account.
Chairman Jane Kuckel said the two counties should not be compared in any discussion of a reallocation referendum.
“It should be clear Collier has a very different tax base than we do,” she said. “We have all been cautioned not to make that decision until we know we have covered our expenses out of this fund this year. I don’t want anyone thinking I am opposed to transferring funds.”