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School District: Half cent sales tax funded nearly 4,000 additional student seats

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 25, 2023

School children in classroom at lesson

The voter-approved half cent sales tax for schools has provided more than 3,700 new student seats, a 3 percent-plus increase.

According to the presentation to the School Board of Lee County on Tuesday, the tax has funded 3,782 new student seats.

In addition the money has helped fund seven major projects, according to the presentation made by Independent Sales Surtax Oversight Committee, made up of 15 members and two alternate members, all residents of Lee County and approved by the school board.

Projects include three new schools — Gateway High School, Lehigh Acres Middle School and Amanecer Elementary School, which is still in progress of being built. In addition, there have been two renovations completed at Lehigh Senior High School and James Stephens Pre-K. There are three remodels in progress at Franklin Park Elementary School, Fort Myers Technical College and Riverdale High School.

“Safety upgrades exceeded $81 million,” said ISSOC Chair Steve Shimp.

The sales tax also funded 22,000 Chromebooks for elementary students during and after the COVID pandemic. Shimp said 73,000 Chromebooks were also a part of the district refresh program.

The revenue also provided classroom interactive video panels and audio amplification systems.

Shimp said there are multiple major capital replacement projects, which include air condition, HVAC systems; roofs; windows; flooring and electrical switchgear.

“There are about 20 areas of capital improvements made throughout the district,” he said.

There are many ways ISSOC shares information, which includes social media, the district website, presentations, an Economic Impact Study and school sports’ programs.

“There are a number of buttons that give taxpayers an opportunity to see what is going on as it relates to their sales tax,” he said of www.leeschools.net.

This fall, they hope to launch Community Outreach Presentations, presented by ISSOC committee members, with support from board members and staff. The initial presentations would be to service clubs and partners, such as Hispanic Chamber, Kiwanis Clubs, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Rotary Clubs and the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools, Shimp said.

“Members take this process very seriously, questions come up and they get researched,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Bernier said clearly the half cent sales tax is good for a number of years.

“Lee County continues to be the exception with the continuation of growth. We still have an amazing amount of vacant property east of 75… continue to develop to the east and northeast,” he said.

Through March 10, 2023 the district has received $385,304,509 in sales tax revenue with $261,197,004 funds expended. The difference in amounts, Shimp said, is about timing on receiving funds, feeling the project and accomplishing the work.

Shimp said no sales tax funds were expended to deal with the Hurricane Ian problems.

“When you have something like an Ian there is a lot of economic activity that occurs in the building effort that offsets the lack of economic activity to the destroyed facilities and lost employment,” he said. “It has kept pace, or slightly ahead of projections.”

According to the referendum approved by Lee County voters in November of 2018, revenue from the local option half cent sales tax can only be used for construction, safety, maintenance and technology.

“One-hundred percent of our schools have received support,” Shimp said.