Maintaining Central Florida Schools Requires Funding

Orange County, Florida – The chief facilities officer for Orange County Public Schools, Rory Salimbene, expressed the challenges faced by a school district of such magnitude in keeping up with the renovation and refurbishment needs of its facilities. Salimbene provided insight into the district’s oldest school, Howard Middle School, which at 97 years old, is in dire need of upgrades, including new lighting, seating, and finishes in the auditorium.

Crews are diligently working on upgrading the school by constructing new floors, ceilings, patching and repairing walls, and updating the outdated electrical wiring and air conditioning. Salimbene emphasized the critical role money plays in maintaining schools, pointing out that much of what is required for a school’s functionality is not visible to the naked eye.

A staggering discovery by News 6 revealed that over $890 million worth of Orange County school maintenance projects could potentially go unfunded. These projects, including the renovations at Howard Middle School, are typically funded by a half-cent sales tax approved by voters. However, the tax in Orange County is set to expire next year, and voters may need to approve it again in November.

The situation is not unique to Orange County, as Marion County Schools are also facing a similar dilemma. The district is considering proposing a half-cent sales tax to alleviate its maintenance costs, having gone 15 years without any sales tax revenue. The superintendent is turning to voters to bridge the $840 million funding gap.

School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs expressed alarm at the current state of affairs, highlighting the unsustainable reliance on citizens to pass tax initiatives each time. As funding sources for school maintenance have dwindled over the years, Jacobs proposed advocating for the state to assume responsibility for school maintenance during a recent school board workshop.

In response to inquiries from News 6, the Florida Department of Education emphasized the autonomy of public school boards in managing and funding school facilities, citing local responsibility as the primary source of funding for school projects. Orange County Public Schools has initiated a survey to gather community input on the district’s facilities, with plans to work on a half-cent sales tax proposal based on the feedback received. Ultimately, it will be up to Orange County Commissioners to determine whether the proposal makes it to the November ballot.

Salimbene succinctly summarized the predicament faced by Orange County Public Schools, emphasizing the indispensable role of financial resources in ensuring the proper maintenance and functionality of educational facilities.

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