Several Lake County School Board members said Monday they want to finish calculating the school district’s capital needs before deciding whether to ask for a larger share of the penny sales tax that is currently split evenly between the schools, county government and the area’s collective municipalities.
Even so, Board Member Rosanne Brandeburg emphasized that the Lake County Commission should support the district more.
“The County Commission gets to make the decisions on our behalf no matter what we say to them,” she said. “They do what they feel they need to do.
“We are always left to hang out to dry. We have to cut, cut and cut,” she added.
Brandeburg said education is important to economic development, and so the community should invest in the school system.
School Board Chairwoman Debbie Stivender shared a letter from County Commission Chairman Jimmy Conner asking the School Board to accept a third of the sales tax revenue. She asked for direction from the board.
Several School Board members said they were still waiting for final figures on specific needs in the district and whether a third of the revenue it receives amounting to $10 million yearly will be enough.
The school district estimates it will need at least $1 billion worth of buildings, equipment and other capital items to keep up with a projected surge in student growth and technological advancements over the next 30 years.
Board member Tod Howard said he was still waiting for final figures on the costs.
“From my standpoint, I am happy to cooperate with the County Commission,” he said. “I understand why they want to do the things they want to do. I also understand we have a funding issue. The sales tax has to equal capital for me.”
Superintendent Susan Moxley said past discussions centered on buildings in south Lake but did not take into account other needs such as technology and buses.
School Board member Bill Mathias said whether a third of a cent is allocated or half a cent, it would not provide enough revenue for the school district to cover all its needs.
“Do we alienate the municipalities and the county?” he asked. “At the end of the day, we have to go ahead and pledge the third, third and third. At some point we need to reach a consensus as a board and work toward selling it to the public.”
Some School Board members previously suggested that half a cent be allocated for the schools, as the student population is expected to increase.
The tax is set to expire in 2017, but the Lake County Commission said at a board workshop in February that they would like residents to vote on whether to renew the tax in 2015.
In the last five years, the school district has lost more than $67 million in property tax revenue because the stagnant economy has kept property values low and the Florida Legislature cut the maximum rate by 25 percent.
However, there is some contention about how the tax revenue should be divided.
County commissioners want to keep the status quo and agreed recently to formally vote on drafting a letter to the school board and the cities, asking them to support this.
Harry Fix, director of the Growth Planning Department for Lake County Schools, said previously that penny sales tax money has been spent on rebuilding and modernizing several schools, including Eustis High School and Umatilla High School.
As the school district looks at its future needs, Fix said more schools, such as Beverly Shores Elementary School, Oak Park Middle School and Treadway Elementary, may need to be modernized or rebuilt.
Early discussions of the cost to rebuild aging schools in south Lake suggest a price tag of at least $30 million.
A consultant for the school district in November projected that by 2020, there will be an increase of about 2,297 students, particularly in the southern part of the county.