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Adkins addresses CCCIA

By Staff | Mar 13, 2018

The Lee County School District has no less than $750 million in projects to do over the next decade, including building new schools and renovating old ones.

With all the talk about impact fees, Superintendent of Schools Gregory Adkins said the money coming in from them, even at the maximum level, isn’t nearly what the system needs to become the world-class system it aspires to become.

That is what Adkins and School Board member Chris Patricca told members of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association at their monthly dinner meeting Thursday at the Palmetto Pines Country Club.

The subject was the School Board’s plan for a ballot referendum to increase the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for all the system’s needs over the next decade and how it will affect the construction industry and community as a whole.

Adkins said Lee County’s is the ninth-largest school district in the state with 94,000 students, with 40 percent coming from homes where English is a second language. It has 12,000 full-time employees, making it one of the biggest employers in the region.

The problem is that not enough money is spent on the students, which troubles Adkins. The state ranks dead last in per-student spending according to the NEA.

“In Lee County, we’re even lower than that in terms of where we rank in the nation. We rank 44th in the state in spending. If you look at the money we invest in students, we’re pretty low on the ladder,” Adkins said.

In 2006, the system brought in $318 million in capital revenue. Last year, revenue was $118 million, thanks to the recession and decreased education spending on the federal, state and local levels.

With the system bringing in as many as 2,000 more students annually and with growth expected to continue, those number are unsustainable.

“We can’t continue to crowd them into classrooms. The current structures are not capable to housing so many students. That means we have to build,” Adkins said.

The school system plans to build seven new schools, renovate three others and build an addition to Lehigh Senior High School in the next five years and maybe seven more in the five years after that. Translation: Jobs in the construction industry.

Adkins said the loss of dollars meant a loss of a maintenance schedule. Schools such as Fort Myers Middle are in need of maintenance, including a problem with feral cats. This could mean more construction opportunities.

The system will need to spend $478 million in the next five years and more than $700 million in the next 10. Adkins said they are fighting a losing battle without the money.

The sales tax will be placed on anyone who spends money in the county. The average family will pay about $64 on the tax and it won’t be placed on gas, medication or food, and will only be placed on the first $5,000 of a major purchase. One-third of the tax will be borne by tourists, Patricca said, and will raise $59 million per year.

Patricca said the money will go toward improving the technology for teachers and children at school as well as the security, which is of utmost importance since the Parkland shootings last month that killed 17 people.

When construction leaders asked about impact fees and how they can fund school construction, Patricca said it was a non-starter.

“I don’t see impact fees as an option to fund construction. It doesn’t make sense as a revenue source, it’s insufficient and doesn’t get us where we need to be,” Patricca said.

Adkins added that if the tax succeeds, impact fees could go down as there wouldn’t be a need for them in the schools.

“I think this will be a positive impact. It will provide jobs to local providers in construction. It will be positive,” Adkins said.

The tax, if passed, would go into effect Jan. 1, 2019, and last 10 years.