By Dan Ping
Seminole County Public School Board members received a briefing Friday morning about potential capital projects the system would undertake if a penny is added to the county’s sales tax.
The list, which has yet to be approved by the board, lays out $157 million in school renovations, including brand new school facilities at Casselberry Elementary and Sanford’s Pine Crest Elementary.
Seminole County voters will decide May 20 whether to increase the sales tax to 7 percent from the current 6 percent rate. If approved, the increase would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015 and would continue through Dec. 31, 2024.
The sales tax increase is expected to generate about $60 million a year. The school system will received 25 percent of the revenue, while Seminole County and its seven municipalities will split the remaining revenue to fund road, stormwater and other infrastructure capital projects. The money can not be used to fund Lynx, SunRail or routine maintenance.
As part of the referendum process, Seminole County, the cities and the school board are outlining how the new tax money will be spent.
George Kosmac, deputy superintendent of operations for Seminole County Public Schools, gave school board members brief descriptions of the 21 projects proposed. The largest expense in the proposed school lists is $26 million at Seminole High School to replace two vocational buildings and add classroom space for students now housed in 22 portable buildings.
“Those are probably some of the worst portables we have in Seminole County,” Kosmac said.
Board member Dede Schaffner expressed concerned a new elementary/middle school was not part of the proposed capital list. She said in the next 10 years, the number of students is going to increase, especially in Sanford and the north end of Seminole County.
“I don’t know where (a new school) would go, but we need to included it in the list,” Schaffner said.
Her colleagues, Amy Lockhart and Tina Colderone, agreed that capacity issues are a concern. However, in some areas of Seminole County school population is declining, and there is uncertainty about how legislation the Florida legislature is considering regarding charter schools would effect student population.
“At this point in time, our crystal ball is muddy,” said Calderone.
The sales tax referendum voters will consider in May is similar to two previous efforts by county, school and city officials in 1991 and 2001. Both of those initiatives passed with overwhelming support — 60 percent of voters approved the increase in 1991, while 72 percent agreed to the measure in 2001.
However, including the school system as part of the sales tax referendum is not without some controversy this year. Voters approved a property tax increase in 2012 to benefit the schools, and in 2013 the school board levied the maximum amount, 1 mil, allowed by the referendum.
And Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jason Brodeur says his organization likely will not take a position on the referendum.
Superintendent Walt Griffin has said if the sales tax referendum is approved he recommends reducing the school millage rate by a corresponding amount to the revenue generated by the sales tax revenue.
School board members have to yet to approve such a proposal.