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Charters to finally get fairer share of tax dollars from School District


The five public charter schools in the Indian River County School District will get $2.1 million more in local property taxes this year due to a new state law and local-tax referendum.

“It will make all the difference in the world,” said Gene Waddell, chairman of the board of  Indian River Charter High School.

“Last year we had to take money out of our operating budget to pay for capital expenses,” Waddell said. “Hopefully this year we can avoid that deficit in operations and make our mortgage and maintenance payments out of capital outlay.”

“It will make a tremendous difference,” agreed Ken Miller, business and finance director for North County Charter Elementary.  “We were stuck at spending about $7,300 per student for a long time. Now we’ll have about $8,000. That’s still half what the district spends, at $17,600 per student.”

The local property tax revenue will be distributed among charter and traditional school students more evenly than in the past for two reasons.

First, Florida House Bill 7069 – passed into law mid-June – requires all 67 school districts in the state to equally share the “local capital improvement” millage. In the vast majority of school districts, the tax is $1.50 for every $1,000 assessed property value or 1.50 mills.

The school district estimates it will collect about $25.5 million this year from the 1.50 mills. After certain allowed deductions, the five charters will share a little over $1.4 million or about $631 for each of the estimated 2,295 charter school students, which is nearly 13 percent of the district’s 17,540 student total.

Imagine Schools at Indian River South is the largest charter in the district and the fresh infusion of cash money will help with expansion.

“We’re at capacity at 913 students,” Imagine Regional Director Jennifer Fornes said. “We want the money. We need it.”

Indian River Charter High has about 640 students, North County Charter Elementary about 350, Sebastian Charter Junior High about 260 and St. Peter’s Academy about 135 students.

The second source of property-tax revenue for charter schools comes from the .50-mills assessment county voters passed in August 2016, which went into effect this July. The revenue is to be spent on operations and will be shared equally. The district expects to collect $8.5 million from the tax, making the charters’ share about $1 million.

In previous years, the charters got only 5 percent of a .60-mill operations tax passed by voters in 2012 and that expired in July. The charters took the district to court to get a larger share proportionate to their student population and won, Circuit Court Judge Paul Kanarek ruling in their favor in mid-June.

Since then the two sides have tried to work out a figure for the back payments to no avail. Kanarek will hear payment arguments on Aug. 30 and then give a final ruling some time later.

Based on the charters’ student population, the district owes them about $2.55 million in delinquent tax revenue, but if the charters are awarded legal fees and punitive interest, the district will be on the hook for another $800,000 or more.

The interest is calculated daily and the lawyers are still working, eating up taxpayer-funded fees while the district tries to find a way out of the mess it has made by unfairly withholding money from the charters.