Last November, the School District of Palm Beach County was facing an astounding $1.4 billion in deferred maintenance for schools and facilities. I joked that we could hold things together with super glue and duct tape for only so long, but the deficit the district was facing was very real. Fortunately, voters approved a penny sales tax, providing the revenue stream to upgrade our buildings, buses and campus security.
Florida school districts are limited in the capital funds they can generate by caps set by the Florida Legislature. Beginning in 2008, districts started to experience drastic cuts to capital budgets, with Palm Beach County losing $865 million over eight years.
As we prepare for the first revenues from the sales tax, the district has ramped up for 18 summer projects ranging from paving, air conditioning replacement, new roofs, improvements in outdoor lighting and waterproofing. We also have new school buses scheduled for delivery before students return in August.
Over the next 10 years, work will be accomplished in an aggressive timetable with the assistance of a construction partner to be identified through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process. The district has a history of delivering on time and within budget for promises made with referendum funds, and we are committed to this high standard with the half-penny the district will receive.
As we begin work, I’d like to debunk common misconceptions I’ve heard throughout the community prior to voter approval for the referendum. I want all taxpayers, even those who did not support the sales tax, to have accurate information about our district budget.
Florida Lottery monies contribute to much-needed scholarships for students, but the funds do not provide a windfall of revenue for school districts. Our district receives enough lottery funds to cover operational expenses for approximately two days.
Not all of your property taxes go to your local schools. Palm Beach County is a donor district. Your taxes are collected, but not all of the revenue is returned to the community. It is distributed throughout the state to other districts. Absent state legislative action, the only real way a Florida school district can increase revenues and ensure local control of the revenue is through a voter-approved referendum.
The Palm Beach County community has a long history of taking care of children, and the recent approval of the sales tax referendum is just one of the many testaments to the this.
ROBERT M. AVOSSA, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Robert M. Avossa is superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County.