After school board halts Estero school project, some members want plans audited

Published: November 17, 2021 5:57 PM EST
Updated: November 17, 2021 6:28 PM EST

The Lee County School Board voted on Tuesday to halt plans for a new school in Estero.

Several school board members expressed concern about how the Estero project was put together after a recent WINK News investigation.

After a motion to halt the plans, multiple school board members spokes about an audit or an investigation.

Now, School Board member Gwyn Gittens said she wonders if the school should have been approved in the first place.

A WINK News investigation found there are 89 portable classrooms in the east district of the county, which is made up primarily of Lehigh Acres. Meanwhile, the south district, which includes Estero, only has 14.

“If you look at the district as a whole, it’s not in the south zone where the need is,” Gittens said.

The investigation found 80% of portbles are in Gittens’ zone. Gittens represents the east zone in the county.

The Estero site is currently a wooded area made up partially of wetlands. Gittens said previously $2.8 million has already been invested in the school but other board members say it is more.

“The purchase of the land for $4 million, paying planners for $4 million and another $4 million on the steel comes to $12 million,” said Melisa Giovannelli, school board member who represents district 2. “In order to have full transparency to make sure this doesn’t happen again, we must gain public trust. We must have a public audit to do that.”

The board voted unanimously, 7-0, to halt the project and several board members called for a review of the process that allowed it to get this far.

It is unclear what the district will do with leftover resources from the Estero school but several board members have urged the district to reinvest in areas of greater need.

“I still think that we must address this much deeper and take a deeper dive into how we got here. That’s the only way that we’re going to have the public trust and be able to move forward, truly,” Giovannelli said.

Betsy Vaughn, another school board member, said she would not be opposed to that.

“To see if there were illegal machinations that occurred during this time period,” Vaughn said.

Gittens expressed the desire for fast action.

“What I don’t want to see is this kicked down the road and saying we need to investigate. We come back and haggle about whether we’re going to investigate,” she said.