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Browder unveils Plan B before Lee school board

By Staff | Jun 17, 2009

Following weeks of anticipation and preparation, Superintendent James Browder introduced the school district’s Plan B — an option that would avoid reducing Lee County’s academics and not increase taxes.
Plan A was introduced last month and outlined $43 million worth of cuts. It also introduced a possible increase of the district’s discretionary millage to raise $16.3 million.
The community reacted disapprovingly to a potential tax increase, and board member Elinor Scricca asked Browder to draft Plan B.
Browder stressed Tuesday that Plan B is riskier than its counterpart, but it would help to settle county residents who have already experienced a tumultuous year as a result of the 2008 economic collapse.
“Take that uncertainty out of the community,” he said. “There is risk involved, however we want to do our part to settle this community back down.”
In terms of being a riskier endeavor, Plan B would make it difficult for the district to deal with increased reductions, explained Browder, especially if general revenues in the state are too high.
Members of the school board supported Browder’s instinct to give the community some closure in a two-month debate over whether taxes would be increased from between $18.75 to $68.75, depending on home values.
Board member Robert Chilmonik, who holds a reputation for going against the grain, voiced his support for Plan B. He added that district costs need to be reduced to prevent further cuts in the future.
“I agree with Dr. Browder and we need to settle the community down,” said Chilmonik. “But we still need to look at further reductions in other areas.”
The school district’s millage rate will be locked in at a July 24 meeting, and the final budget needs to be approved Sept. 8.
While all five board members expressed their consensus for Browder to pursue Plan B, board member Steven Teuber was cautious. He is worried that closing the door on Plan A could leave the district in a position to have to implement “draconian” cuts.
“The reason we approved Plan A is because it gives us every option available. We fought for it, got it and used it,” said Teuber. “We don’t know what our projections are going to be.”
Browder said district reserves make Plan B possible by reinstating a total of $8 million: $3 million for arts and music programs, $3 million for additional teachers at the secondary level, $1.5 million for school supplies and $500,000 for above the formula funding in arts and magnet schools.