Lee schools will not share sales tax revenue with struggling Cape Coral charters
The Lee County School Board has decided not to share the half-cent school sales tax revenue with the town of Cape Coral for its charter schools.
While not a formal vote, the school board, in a 5-2 decision, ordered its lawyer to write an official letter advising the city of its decision.
The half-cent school sales tax, passed by Lee County voters with a 1.52% margin in 2018, provides additional funds to the school district for school construction and renovation, maintenance , school safety initiatives and technology projects.
Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter and several other city officials attended a school board briefing on Tuesday in hopes of influencing the board to consider their request.
âWe are asking for a partnership with Lee County and our schools,â Gunter said.
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Cape Coral City Council had voted 6-1 to ask the school district to contribute part of the district’s sales tax funding to Cape Coral’s four charter schools. City leaders sent a letter in July.
Charter schools lease buildings from the town of Cape Coral. The lease payment, called âdebt payment,â is approximately $ 3 million each year.
Cape Coral charter schools in financial difficulty
Charter schools in Cape Town are struggling financially and officials have spoken of needing money for maintenance.
Board member Gloria Tate said city-run charter schools have the same needs as other schools in Lee County, but don’t get the same funding opportunities.
All the money received would go to 48 classrooms that need carpet, more buses and other areas of schools that need maintenance.
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In the letter sent by Gunter, he said the carpet replacement would cost $ 230,000 per school, the buses would cost $ 110,000 each, and the new playgrounds would cost $ 200,000 each.
“I ask you to take a second look at this even though you seem to have made up your mind,” Tate said.
In Cape Coral, the city’s charter schools serve less than 15% of schoolchildren living in the city and just over 3% of Lee County’s student body.
According to the school district’s website, the district has collected more than $ 163 million in sales tax since voters approved it in November 2018.
School district financial director Ami Desamours said there were several reasons charter schools were not included in the referendum and therefore were not entitled to the money.
Desamours also said that Cape Coral is already receiving public education capital spending dollars from the state for its charter schools.
Cape Coral charter schools are expected to receive nearly $ 1.8 million in CEEC funding for fiscal year 2022.
Lee County School District Budget Manager Kelly Letcher said the council is helping the city in other ways with funding for charter schools.
âWe could get an administrative fee from them for up to 1,000 students, but we’re only billing them for 250 students, which has allowed them to put about $ 229,000 into their fundraiser each year,â Letcher said.
Cape Coral’s request would open a box of worms for Lee’s school board
Kathy Dupuy-Bruno, the school board lawyer, pointed out that Cape Coral’s request would open a box of worms for the board.
“You are open to sharing it with other charter schools, not just municipalities,” said Dupuy-Bruno.
Twenty-two more charter schools would potentially be eligible for the funds if the school board chooses to let the Cape Coral charter school participate in the funds, Dupuy-Bruno said.
School board member Chris Patricca said charter schools were not included in the referendum and any changes could lead to legal problems.
âI love our charter schools,â Patricca said. “We have promised taxpayers not to share with charter schools.”
Cape Coral city officials have rejected this notion.
âI’m not asking for anything that goes against the referendum,â Gunter said. “But because charter schools are classified as a public school, I think we have an opportunity to ask for this money to be shared.”
Oasis Charter Schools Superintendent Jacquelin Collins said PECO funding for charter schools was not enough.
âWhen you consider $ 1.7 million in funding divided by four schools, that’s not a lot of money,â Collins said. “It is extremely difficult to make improvements without additional funding.”
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Lee County School Board denies Cape Coral charter fund request