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School district could borrow $25M in stimulus funds

By Staff | Aug 12, 2009

Lee County Schools Superintendent James Browder was directed by the school board Tuesday afternoon to look into borrowing $25 million from a federal stimulus program designed to stimulate school renovation projects.
According to Browder, the $25 million has to be used for renovating schools or construction projects that end in the addition of services for students. Furthermore, the district would have 15 years in which to pay it back interest-free.
The board was excited about the possibility of using the $25 million in stimulus funds to renovate schools, while leaving its own money in the capital account to collect interest or be used for another project slated to begin two or three years down the line.
“We think it would be smart for us to take advantage of the dollars to stimulate this local economy with construction,” said Browder.
Injecting money into school construction projects could also reawaken the lagging construction industry that often dictates the health of the Southwest Florida economy.
Funds would only be accessible through the district’s capital fund — used to pay for construction or renovations — so it could not help offset some of the operational funds. The capital plan is balanced for five years, said Browder.
Lee County was notified two years ago by the federal government that it was one of 11 in the state that qualified for stimulus dollars because of its high percentage of families living below the poverty level.
The board reached a consensus on accepting the stimulus funds. Board member Robert Chilmonik suggested the district uses the funds to invest in renewable energy such as solar power on buildings.
“In California they are using solar panels at some of their facilities. That would be something to return money to the school district,” he said.
Chairman Jane Kuckel also wanted the superintendent to look into the possibility of solar panels.
“I would support this plan, but also looking with the possibility of looking at solar panels, that is a good trade off,” she said.