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Vice chair: School board is exploring all funding options

By Staff | May 28, 2009

A proposed one-time tax increase for Lee County schools has been a major issue between the public and district officials, but according to vice chairman Steve Teuber, the school board is not eager to raise taxes.
During a budget workshop earlier this month Superintendent James Browder outlined a possible millage increase of 0.25 to help the district raise $16.3 million.
While the perception is that arts and music will be cut unless the tax is levied, Teuber said the board is considering other options, including a plan B that the board directed Browder to consider Tuesday.
“People are confused that if you don’t do the tax millage, you lose arts education,” he said. “I am against taxes, but I am for the ability to raise taxes if we have to do it.”
Board member Elinor Scricca proposed plan B as an option that would not cut programs, negatively affect students and would not include a budget shortfall.
Four members of the board directed Browder to consider the millage increase in his budgeting process, but Teuber stressed that it is being done to cover every financial base.
In March, Teuber worked with state legislators to secure more funding for the school district. At that time he was not sure if there were enough funds to balance the budget. As a result, he asked the Legislature to provide the state’s 67 school districts with the ability to increase taxes if needed.
Teuber said he wants to see the local property values, released by Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson on July 1, before making any decisions on a possible tax increase.
“My inclination is no, but am I going to be adamant off the gate?” he asked. “I am hoping we don’t have to do that (tax increase). I’m trying to get through the summer to get the tax rolls.”
Wilkinson’s office has already hinted at a decrease of property values between 20 percent to 30 percent countywide.
The school district has $28 million in its contingency fund, according to Teuber, but officials are hesitant to use it for filling budget shortfalls until they are sure the state will not take money back midyear.
The shortfall for next year’s budget could be anywhere between $25 million and $45 million.
“If the tax rolls show we can survive without a tax increase, I won’t take money away from our citizens,” he said.
Teuber added that even though the district is considering the elimination of arts and music programs at the elementary level, students will still have exposure to the arts.
Furthermore, he said, 85 percent of the art teachers being cut are certified in other subject areas and will be placed in a job somewhere else in the county.
“The kids aren’t getting any less but are getting it arguably by a less qualified instructor,” said Teuber. “When I went to school you had a second-grade teacher that taught you everything.”