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Teuber addresses civic organization

By Staff | Feb 11, 2015

Steven Teuber, vice-chair Lee County School District, spoke at the Greater Pine Island Civic Association’s monthly meeting last Tuesday night. Teuber stressed the need for additional funding to build new schools in the Lee County School system.

Kathy Malone introduced Teuber.

“I was at the County Commission this morning because they were discussing the impact fees that fund our schools, our parks, our libraries,” Malone said. “Those fees have been reduced for the last two years, and we have lost something like $39 million that could be used for all of these things. The commission is discussing what to do at this time.

“Tonight we have invited Steven Teuber from the School Board to discuss with us what options the school board has,” she continued. “We are in need of new schools and that’s why Steve is here to let us know what the options are. Steve, welcome to Pine Island.”

“Thank you for inviting me here tonight,” Teuber said. “Back in 2002, I had my children in Lee County schools and didn’t know who was on my School Board. You should know that 63 percent of your taxes go to the schools. The Florida Constitution mandates that the school districts are the size of the county. That means a school district has 330,000 students.

“I got elected from 2002 to 2010,” he continued. “In 2002 our schools were bursting at the seams and our kids were in 880 portables around the district. Two years later we had built 18 simultaneous school additions. The largest expansion in Lee County history.

“Every year from 2010 to 2014 the Lee County School District has grown 1,500 students per year and today there are 83,000 kids in Lee County schools,” Teuber said. “Almost 98 percent capacity.

“Where we are today is every year we pay $58 million in debt service (interest) because of past loans,” Teuber said. “Schools are expensive. Building a new high school is $50 million, a middle school about $35 million and an elementary school about $25 million.

“So what can we do? We can borrow more money, but I don’t think that’s the solution. We can raise property taxes, but that isn’t fair because rental people don’t pay property taxes. We can raise impact fees which would raise just $5.2 million. We have two high schools to build and two middle schools to build. We need about $300 million total and $50 million now. Impact fees don’t come close to filling the bill.”

“Another issue is we can increase the sales tax,” he continued. “One argument is that it penalizes the poor. Another is that people buying high ticket items will go elsewhere to make their purchase which hurts our economy. Personally, if you want to do it right you do it like we do at home. You tighten your belts by eliminating debt. We pay $56 million in debt service. If we had a sales tax strictly to pay off the debt. As soon as the debt is paid off the sales tax ends. After the debt is paid we have $56 million every year in perpetuity.

“Next we have $26 million that we moved from capital to operating. I would suggest putting that back where it belongs and you then figure out how to work with $26 million less. That’s what we do at home! Cut back. That’s my philosophy. It’s how I run my business and how I run my home. It’s not pretty but it works.”

He also fielded questions from the audience.

Q. “How much in additional sales tax would you anticipate you would need to take care of the debt?”

A. “The discussion was a half-cent tax. But we are in the early phase and haven’t come up with a definite number. The board thinks it’s a good idea but I think we have to look at the money we are already spending and whether we can find it there.”

Q. “If people voted for a sales tax how would we know that it would be used for the intended purpose?”

A. “We can designate where it would be spent.”

Q. “How can you expect people to believe that a government that sets budgets saying that the schools have to spend a certain amount of money on, say supplies, when it’s needed someplace else. How can you expect people to believe that money will be spent where it is intended to be spent?”

A. “If I was sitting there I would feel the same way. The change has to come from the voters. Until you systemically change the system it won’t get any better.”

Q. “What makes charter schools that much better?”

A. “Charter schools out perform public schools because of parent participation. They actually require that parents are involved. Why can’t we do that? If we do those kids will perform better. Anyone that wants their child in school should sign up for 40 hours.

“Thanks for inviting me here tonight,” Teuber said. “This is my last term and I will be serving out my four years. I’d be more than happy to come back to provide an update on where things are going. Thank you very much.”

The Pine Island Civic Association is a civic group encompassing all of the Greater Pine Island area including St. James City, Bokeelia, Pineland and Matlacha. The GPICA has been active for over 40 years and is responsible for the retention of the “Old Florida” charm and atmosphere that attracted most of us to this location. The GPICA strives to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the residents through educational programs and necessary group activities.