Increasing Lee County property taxes to raise teacher salaries

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Seal of the School District of Lee County. Photo via WINK News.
Seal of the School District of Lee County. Credit: WINK News.

Parents want to give their kids the best options for schools and teachers want higher pay. Now, there is a potential solution to make both a reality – but there is a catch.

The Lee County Teacher’s Union is pushing to increase property taxes in hopes to get a more significant raise.

There is still a long way to go before the idea can happen. According to several school board members Wednesday, the consensus is they are open to the concept of a property tax hike.

It remains Florida’s annual struggle to balance the budget while finding more funds to allocate to teacher compensation. Lee County Teacher’s Union leaders said we need to raise property taxes.

Peter Davis, a real estate agent at Premier Palm Properties, said it is a great idea.

“If the average household is paying another $100 to $200 bucks a year for schools to keep good teachers,” Davis said, “I don’t see a problem with that.”

Davis sees possibilities. Better teachers mean better schools, which means happier home buyers and higher property values. Davis does not believe a property tax increase will hurt home sales.

Teacher salaries have seen recent adjustments.

“The entire compensation package teachers voted in favor and the board approved was 6 percent larger than their last package,” said Rob Spicker, media relations and public information for the School District of Lee County. “Total compensation includes salary, benefits and supplements.

“Teachers will receive between a 2.5 percent and 9 percent salary increase under the contract,” Spicker said.

But even with that increase, Florida teachers rank among the bottom five in the nation in salary. That comes as Lee County voters just approved a half-penny sales tax increase.

The school board declined to state its position on the property tax increase. But if they do move forward with the proposal, it would have to get on the 2020 or the 2022 ballot as a referendum.

More than a dozen homeowners we spoke with said raising property taxes is a good idea, including Patrica Litchfiled.

“My niece had just taken in three foster kids and they’re in public school system,” Litchfiled said. “I definitely support and I think teachers get paid too little.”

Andy Heygate agrees with the realtor. Better education will attract more lucrative home buyers.

“Kids are eventually going to establish policies and working companies and open their own business,” Heygate said. “The better foundation they have, the better it makes the whole city and the area.”

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