Superintendent proposes tax hike to battle shortfall
The Lee County School Board discussed a possible tax increase during a budget workshop Monday afternoon.
Both houses of the Florida Legislature passed their budgets last week, and now the school district is expecting a budget shortfall of $43 million due to lower statewide revenue and state funding.
Superintendent James Browder discussed a potential one-time tax increase in the district’s discretionary millage that could generate $16.3 million for Lee County in order to prevent cuts to the arts, secondary teachers and supplies.
“There are four areas where that would help — art, music, secondary schools, supplies for children in schools and above formula for arts and magnet schools,” he said.
The district was looking to cut all elementary art and music teachers, but recently announced that 50 percent of the teachers may be retained.
Overall, cutting art and music would save the district $6 million, according to Monday’s budget report.
Increasing taxes to save the programs would change the amount a homeowner needs to pay by as little as $18.75 and as much as $68.75, depending on the individual value of homes.
Lee County School Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he would not support a tax increase, yet the board only needs a super majority of four members to approve the increase.
“It simply is not something we can look at with the unemployment rate so high,” he said. “Lee County will probably be one of the counties that comes out of this in the end. I can’t support any tax increase at this point.”
During a heated discussion on the possible tax increase between Chilmonik, the superintendent and other members, Board Member Elinor Scricca asked Chilmonik to reconsider his decision.
“I feel, again, this is not a political issue. This is a survival issue, and I would ask Mr. Chilmonik to rethink this position. We are delaying survival for education programs,” she said.
Board Member Jeanne Dozier said none of the board members wanted to raise taxes, but she supports the proposal if it saves art and music in schools.
“I don’t think anyone sitting here wants to raise taxes, but here in Florida there isn’t a permanent funding source for public education. All budgets throughout the state are short,” she said.
The school district is expecting a decrease in per student spending by $341.12.
The federal government is providing Lee County with $27 million worth of stimulus funds that vanish after two years, and the state has allowed a transfer of $16 million to provide more flexibility.
Board members are now worried that public education will be devastated after the temporary funds are no longer given to Lee County.