Lakeland Schools Ask For $50 Million Municipal Bond

$0.55 Property Tax Increase to Fund Joint Middle/High School

“Based on the agreement we have with Arlington for our high school students to be educated there, the need for a facility in Lakeland has made itself ever present.  I believe that without starting today effectively that trek towards building this school, we set Lakeland up to fail in the future.”

Commissioner Gene Torrey, sponsor of the ordinance establishing a special property tax, spoke the above words in introducing a presentation by Lakeland School System Superintendent Ted Horrell on “The Case for Additional Facilities.”

Lakeland Prep

While ultimately focusing on the anticipated growth in the number of students in both Lakeland and Arlington, Horrell began his case by emphasizing that Lakeland residents are in a unique situation even among Shelby County because their municipal school system cannot educate all of its students from kindergarten through graduation in its own schools.

According to Horrell, the Lakeland School Board has already approved a $50 million, five year Capital Improvement Plan to build “Lakeland Prep” a combined middle and high school, first announced in our April article, here:  Joint Middle/High School Seen as Key to Lakeland’s Future Success

Horrell identified the desire for local control and community schools as two reasons that commonly came up and were mentioned repeatedly in the debate for municipal schools. “I know that everybody who was paying attention heard these things and I think we can all agree that those are things that are desirable in a school system,” Horrell added.

Horell reminded the crowd that Lakeland twice voted for the establishment of a municipal school system in 2012 and 2013, but added  “we won’t truly have local control or truly have community schools for all of our students until we have a K-12 system.”

Currently, 1359 out of the 2169 Lakeland students enrolled in public schools attend schools in Arlington or Bartlett. With an approximate $8000 in state and county funding per student, $9.84 million or 56% of the $17.36 million total goes to Arlington Community Schools. An addition $1.04 million (6% of total) is paid to Bartlett City Schools for the students who still attend Bon Lin Middle School through 2016 under the terms of that interlocal agreement.

Horrell identified concerns that at the end of its seven year Interlocal Agreement with Lakeland, Arlington Community Schools quite simply will run out of room for Lakeland students or be unable to provide transportation for them (see current enrollment numbers below). If this happened, Horrell suggested that Lakeland could be forced to turn to Shelby County Schools to educate its middle and high school students.

Current enrollment

Why now?  Horrell argued that the city could take advantage of lower interest rates and that parents are making decisions now about
where children will go to school when deciding on where to live.

This belief that people move to municipalities because of the schools and need for Lakeland to provide a K-12 system to be competitive was echoed throughout the evening.

Ultimately, Horrell presented a 262,000 sq. ft. joint middle/high school with a proposed cost–including 70 acres of land, construction costs of $130/ sq. ft., architect and engineering fees, furnished, and with athletic facilities–of $50 million.

The cost to Lakeland taxpayers would be an additional $0.55 property tax increase to finance a 30-year municipal bond without adversely impacting City of Lakeland services. That increase would bring the total local property tax for Lakeland to $1.40, making it the second lowest in Shelby County after Arlington at $1.15. Before the approval of Ordinance 12-170 in June 2012, Lakeland had no local property tax.

According to Lakeland Mayor Bunker, Lakeland City Attorney Chris Patterson has advised that the issue of a special tax increase cannot be decided by public referendum, but must be voted on by the Mayor and Board of Commissioners.

The first reading of the ordinance to approve the special property tax will be at the Board of Commissioners meeting at 5:30 pm on August 14. The Lakeland School Board will host a community forum on the property tax increase at 6:00 pm on August 19 at Lakeland Elementary. The City of Lakeland will hold a public hearing at the September 4 work session at 5:30 pm and a second reading and vote at its September meeting, which has been changed to September 23 at 5:30 pm.


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