Tax surcharge has been positive investment for Lee County public schools
In 2018, the citizens of Lee County approved a half-penny sales tax to be used to support the growth of and excellence in the School District of Lee County. This tax surcharge is approved for 10 years, and is projected to raise approximately $1 billion during the decade.
To ensure accountability to the voters, the School District created the Independent Sales Surtax Oversight Committee (ISSOC) to oversee the utilization of these funds in accordance with the voter’s’ intentions. For the past three years, the ISSOC has met quarterly to provide oversight and guidance to the School District. As representatives of the ISSOC, we’d like to keep the public informed regarding the impact these funds are having on your schools.
Since inception, the sales tax has generated approximately $275 million for Lee County Schools. As proposed in the ballot initiative, a large part of these funds are provided by visitors to our region who pay sales tax when visiting Florida. With the exception of the pause in travel due to COVID-19 in the first half of 2020, vacation travel to Southwest Florida has been booming, as exemplified by record numbers at our regional airports. Thankfully, these visitors are strengthening our regional economy and our schools.
The $275 million has been put to good use in strengthening your educational system. As our population continues to boom, new schools are needed. The sales tax has helped build Gateway High School, the new Lehigh Acres Middle School and Amanecer Elementary which opens in August of 2023. The sales tax has also supported the renovation of Lehigh Acres Senior High School, Veterans Park Academy for the Arts, Riverdale High School starting in January and the remodeling of Fort Myers Tech. Over $81 million has been dedicated to new construction so far.
The surtax also funds needed capital maintenance projects, and has benefited every school in the district. These upgrades include new roofs, updated air conditioning, efficient lighting, drainage and landscaping, electrical upgrades, covered walkways, and much more. Over $108 million has been invested, reducing the amount of deferred maintenance required.
Safety and security is another key area for investment, and is needed now more than ever. Almost $70 million has been invested in keeping our students and teachers safe. These include various physical barriers to entry, improved camera monitoring, limiting door access, ID measures, and emergency notification systems. etc. Due to the nature of the issues, the district does not share the hardening measures that they are taking.
Finally, your sales taxes are being used to strengthen our technology infrastructure across the system. This was particularly valuable when large numbers of laptops were needed for our students learning virtually, but also to strengthen remote teaching requirements. In addition, in-classroom smart boards and modernized AV equipment are making our schools the envy of the state. $83 million has been spent on improving technology.
This progress and growth isn’t possible without the foresight of the voters of Lee County to invest in our schools. This initiative offloads many of the costs to visitors, yet our full and part time residents are better supported by schools that produce graduates ready for secondary education or to join the workforce immediately. This strengthens families, improves educational outcomes, ensures a more resilient economy, and continues to make Southwest Florida a great place to live, work, play and retire.
Thank you for your continuing support of our schools, and please know that we are here to ensure accountability with your investments.
Independent Sales Surtax Oversight Committee (ISSOC).