COLLIER COUNTY, Fla - In just three weeks voters in Collier County will be asked to approve a referendum. The Collier County School District says voting yes on November 6 will prevent them from having to make more than $14 million in cuts.
Four years ago, Collier County voters approved a referendum allowing the district to move funds from their capital budget to their operating budget. On November 6, the district is hoping voters will say yes again.
Becky Newell is a mother of a 7th grader at North Naples Middle School and also chair of the Yes Again For Our Kids campaign. "It is critical to get the word out there over the next three weeks that it's important to our schools to have this money available and to vote yes on this referendum," says Newell.
At a Town Hall Meeting at Barron Collier High School Monday night, Superintendent Kamela Patton asked parents to think about the kids when they head to the polls.
Voters will be asked to renew a "tax neutral" referendum that will shift $14.5 million from the capital budget to the district's operating budget.
The exact wording on the ballot will read:
"Collier County School District proposes to renew the 2008 voter approved referendum to allow the District the option to reduce the capital tax millage by .25 mills and increase the operating millage by .25 mills to maintain economic stability. This will not result in any increase to the taxpayer.
Shall the School District reduce the capital millage and increase the operating millage each by up to .25 mills for a four year period?"
"In order for us to move the dollars over, we have to ask the public for permission to do that," says Dr. Patton. "What were trying to do during these declining times is use our money where we need it. We don't need a new school built so we don't need to build a reserve on that. We need those dollars for operating."
The Districts capital budget goes toward building new schools and maintaining the facilities. Patton says they have enough money in that fund for at least five years, but their operating budget, which is money used to put teachers in the classroom and buy textbooks for kids, needs help.
"It is needed critically on the operating side and our kids are going to suffer if we have to cut that $14.5 million from the operating budget next year, which is exactly what will happen if the referendum doesn't pass again," says Newell.
Dr. Patton says this referendum comes at no cost to taxpayers, but North Naples resident Dennis Vasey says there is an impact.
He says a total of $60 million has been transferred from the capital fund over the past four years and another $60-$70 could be transferred if the referendum is approved. He believes the money could have been used to reduce the existing capital debt.
He also points out that some experts in the housing market have predicted a 10 percent appreciation in home prices in Naples by the end of the year.
"There was no growth in any of their estimates and if we look at what the housing market is doing there's growth that means there are increases in property taxes," says Vasey.
He says, assuming that the 2012 property value increase is 5 percent, the additional tax revenue to the school district would be about $14 million.
But school leaders say an improving housing market doesn't help the operating budget which is funded by the state. Currently Collier County is getting $857 less per student than they were five years ago and until funding from the state increases, the district will have to turn to voters for help.
"Asking about the referendum is to say can we have the permission for four more years to continue this, if not, it's $14 million dollars we then have to start cutting for next school year."
Dr. Patton couldn't say what would be cut if the referendum does not pass. She will hold another town hall meeting next Tuesday at Naples High School.
For more information on the referendum you can click on the links below:
Collier County School District: http://www.collier.k12.fl.us/referendum12.asp
Yes Again For Our Kids: http://www.facebook.com/Collier.County.School.Referendum