Serious Questions Should Be Asked of the School Board

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SCOTT ELLIS: Unfortunately the School Board Has Few Answers Other Than They ‘Need the Money for the Children.’

The Brevard County School Board is proposing an additional one half cent tax for six years to fund capital repair and replacement for their facilities, as well as nebulous add-ons for security and technology. 

YOUR-OPINION-435-112The net proceeds of this new tax will be approximately $200 million.

Just as with any individual or business coming to a lender to borrow money, serious questions should be asked of the School Board.

How did you get to the point where you need the money, what do you intend to do with the funding, how will this enable you to avoid the same problem in the future, and what happened the last time money was borrowed?

How did you get to the point where you need the money, what do you intend to do with the funding, how will this enable you to avoid the same problem in the future, and what happened the last time money was borrowed?

Unfortunately the School Board has few answers other than they ‘need the money for the children.’

This request of the voters, and subsequently, the taxpayers follows failed sales tax referendums in 2003 and 2012 and a literal explosion of borrowing of about $500 million from 2006 through 2008.

There is no detailed plan for expenditures of any new money, much less a priority for those expenditures.

In any capital intensive business one would expect to see a capital repair and replacement account and life cycle costing of said capital.

Even with the School Board’s upgraded antiquated financial package (purchased without even taking quotes, much less bids), one would expect the capability of monitoring capital expense and depreciation.  It is not done.

Within a few years of blowing through most of $500 million in capital expenditures after the Housing Bubble the School Board was back in 2012 asking for another sales tax addition.

Within a few years of blowing through most of $500 million in capital expenditures after the Housing Bubble the School Board was back in 2012 asking for another sales tax addition.

Incredibly much of the borrowing and spending occurred AFTER the market was tanking when it was clear to even the most diehard true believers there really had been a bubble and it had popped.

Even more bizarre, the ‘deferred’ millions in maintenance began to accrue ONE YEAR after the borrowing had halted.  The ‘deferred’ maintenance began accumulating in 2009, leading one to ask why was there no plan for the last $500 million borrowed?

The reason for this constant lurching from crisis to crisis is the lack of the ongoing capital repair and replacement program.

Even though the issue was raised by opponents in the failed 2012 sales tax referendum the School Board still demonstrates it is incapable of detailing the facility and capital replacements needed on an annual basis, and cannot produce detailed data.

No bank would loan any business $200 million on a business plan which fails to show how the money will be spent, much less the conceptual plan of how future crises will be avoided. While we are told there is a crisis, the School Board itself fiddles away wishing and hoping the new tax will pass.

No bank would loan any business $200 million on a business plan which fails to show how the money will be spent, much less the conceptual plan of how future crises will be avoided.

While we are told there is a crisis, the School Board itself fiddles away wishing and hoping the new tax will pass.

Rather than begin cuts now for the possibility of failure, the Board decided no current reductions are needed.

The State appropriated an extra $13 million, and while we are told it is already committed to non-facility items, evidently no looming crisis will force the School Board’s hand to make necessary reductions now.

School closings are threatened, yet one School Board member has already stated the last three schools closed would have been closed anyway due to declining populations.

School closings are threatened, yet one School Board member has already stated the last three schools closed would have been closed anyway due to declining populations.

The 2012 sales tax failure did not matter.  Currently the Board has discussed more school closures, yet nothing is leaked to the public, including the fact some may be closed and sold whether the tax passes or not.

We are told the Legislature is to blame for cutting the capital millage.  What we are not told is the 1.5 mills applied to today’s tax base of $26 billion creates as much revenue as the prior 2.0 mills did applied to the $16 billion pre-bubble tax base of 2001.

The School Board accepts no guilt in their wild budget assumptions of collecting $24 million in annual impact fees and home prices rising by 10 percent per year, each year, from 2006-2010.  It’s not simply they went all in on the Housing Bubble, but when it was CLEAR in 2006 housing prices were falling, the School Board went all in to maximize their borrowing when obvious their assumptions for future revenue were completely wrong.

Without such detail I expect the tax, should it pass, will be spent as the bond money was:  based on the whims of School Board members in their own districts, needed or not, and millions in frills will be spent for ‘security’ and unnecessary ‘technology’ while, before we get to 2020 and the end of the tax, we’ll already be hearing about poor air conditioners, bad roofs, worn out buses, and how more money is needed

The current problem is the massive debts accumulated during the Bubble, and said debt service now is devouring their income like a well worn wallet full of maxed out credit cards.

Just as in 2003, 2007, and 2012, there is no detailed plan of where the new money will be spent.

Without such detail I expect the tax, should it pass, will be spent as the bond money was:  based on the whims of School Board members in their own districts, needed or not, and millions in frills will be spent for ‘security’ and unnecessary ‘technology’ while, before we get to 2020 and the end of the tax, we’ll already be hearing about poor air conditioners, bad roofs, worn out buses, and how more money is needed.

No bank would loan any business $200 million with no plan.

Should the taxpayers be expected to behave any differently?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Ellis was first elected Brevard County Clerk of the Court in 2000 and voluntarily left office at the end of 2010. He was reelected in 2012 by a wide margin over Mitch Needelman.

In 1992, Ellis was elected to the Brevard County Commission. While on the County Commission he worked hard for less government by cutting back on expenditures, debt and bureaucratic red tape.

Scott Ellis

Scott Ellis

Ellis was born in Charleston, West Virginia and graduated from Eau Gallie High School in 1976. Following graduation, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, attaining the rank of Sergeant prior to honorable discharge in 1980. He then graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration in 1985. Ellis went to work for RCA at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a software analyst on the Command Destruct Range Safety programs.

He has taken an active role in governmental affairs at all levels, writing and speaking on numerous subjects in Brevard County.


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