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Funding for charter school on council’s agenda

By Staff | Feb 23, 2013

The Cape Coral City Council will have much to discuss during its regular meeting Monday at City Hall.

One resolution sure to elicit discussion involves the way Lee County distributes its capital funding for schools and that the city’s charter schools don’t get a fair slice of the pie.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail, in the proposed resolution, notes that parents of charter school students pay taxes to the school district’s capital tax and as such, the Lee County School District should provide the charter schools with more funding.

“The resolution is to let the school system know that we, the elected representatives, agree that these students and parents paying capital improvement funds, which should go to the students,” McGrail said.

The Florida Municipal Charter School Foundation is asking that one word be replaced in a state statute to where it reads, “Charter schools in a municipality shall receive their share of the capital millage levy,” instead of “may at their discretion.”

McGrail said there are 11 municipal charter schools in the state of Florida. Four, Christa McAuliffe Elementary and Oasis Elementary, Middle and High schools, are in Cape Coral.

The rest of the charter schools are private institutions.

Also, funding for the schools has dropped by more than $300,000 over the last four years at these charter schools, even though enrollment has doubled in that time.

All this considered, McGrail said the problem comes when the Cape’s municipally owned schools are bunched with the private ones.

“They’re sharing this money with a growing number of schools, but when we argued with the state about looking at individual counties’ options, the argument is they don’t want to share with all the charter schools because they don’t want private schools to be subsidized by public funds,” McGrail said.

Fair enough, McGrail said, since it would be a large financial burden and since two charter schools – Richard Milburn Academy and the Lee Alternative Charter High School – have closed in Lee County this year.

But the four Cape charter schools are under the city’s direction.

“All the assets are city owned. What makes us unique is we are a public system that our residents are saying, ‘We pay our tax dollars, why can’t it go with our student and school?”‘ McGrail said.

The resolution would say the city supports the change of the apportionment of education dollars, and would present it to the Lee County school board March 12.

McGrail stressed the city’s charter schools are in good financial shape presently, but that’s because of the system’s frugality. Looking years down the road, that could change.

“What happens when the PICO funds (a tax on local land lines) run out? People aren’t putting in land lines, they’re using cell phones,” McGrail said. “The only way we can get more money is to get more students.

“I can’t play the doom-and-gloom card because we’re not in that position,” McGrail said. “It boils down to sustainability. We’re not foolish enough to see the writing on the wall that we need to address this.”

Other agenda items

Another resolution involves what to do with the aging Chiquita Lock and Southwest Spreader Canal System.

Council will consider three options, to replace the lock, remove it or fix it, with the first option being about $12.5 million more expensive.

In something somewhat related, council will also vote on whether to take over the permitting process once again from the Army Corp of Engineers to build seawalls along the North Spreader, something the city lost several months ago when their agreement expired.

This will allow permitting to go through in days rather than in months and allow construction to proceed in those areas.

Two ordinances involve the proposed RV resort on Burnt Store Road. One involves the first of two public hearings on adding recreational vehicle parks as a special exception use in the agricultural district, adding other uses as permitted uses in agricultural district, and providing special regulations for recreational vehicle parks.

Another would allow for a marketplace by changing the zoning from agricultural to marketplace residential. The property is on the corner of Burnt Store and Van Buren Parkway.