The measure, the first tax increase Orange County voters have approved in 22 years, will generate about $2.7 billion, but includes a property tax rollback that reduces the net amount raised by $700 million.
Orange County has added 50 schools in the past 12 years, but state funds for building schools have been drying up in recent years. The state provided Orange County schools with $50 million in 1999-2000 for capital projects, for example, but during the current school year could send only $21 million. Renovation projects cost $7 million to $15 million per school; building a high school can cost $75 million to $85 million.
School officials also hope the new schools will help them find the teachers needed to work in them. The sales tax won't boost teacher pay -- currently $30,405 to $53,546 per year -- but improvements in facilities may help recruit teachers, says Javier Melendez, senior director of recruitment and retention. The county already hires about 1,000 new teachers a year.
The tax measure, called Change4Kids, enjoyed broad-based support from the public and from the business and political communities from the time it was proposed. A no-tax group, Ax the Tax, led by talk show host Doug Guetzloe, dueled with a group that favored the measure, led by former state Rep. Dick Batchelor, over the fairness of the property tax break and the use of the new money only for buildings rather than broader issues of salaries, support and pre-schools.
One factor credited with bolstering support for the tax increase is the presence of a group of volunteers with expertise in construction, finance and auditing that advises the school district on construction matters. Five years ago, school officials established the Citizens' Construction Oversight and Value Engineering Committee to build public confidence that money for construction was being spent wisely.
Orange County school officials say that without the sales tax money they faced disaster. "The students were going to be coming anyway, and we need the space for them," says schools spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. "We'd have to find the teachers anyway, but now it will be easier.
IN THE NEWS
Celebration -- Arvida, the community development arm of St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE), has signed a deal with Celebration Co. to buy 160 acres to build a new village. Arvida plans about 300 houses and 300 condominiums, plus parks, an outdoor performance area and a community center. Home prices are expected to range from $100,000 to more than $500,000, with sales expected to begin early next year.
Daytona Beach -- The Museum of Arts & Sciences has received $1 million in state and county grants to build a permanent environmental learning center in the Tuscawilla Nature Preserve adjacent to the museum. The project is expected to open in 2003.
DeLand -- Masterpiece Homes is again the top central Florida home builder in a ranking of customer satisfaction by J.D. Power & Associates.
Maitland -- Tijuana Flats Burrito Co. has signed a joint venture agreement for four more restaurants in Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas counties. The company now has 10 restaurants statewide, including two in Orlando, two in Winter Park and one each in Apopka and Lake Mary.
Orange County -- Siemens Shared Services has leased more than 52,000 square feet of office space in the Quadrangle Business Park as it consolidates operations from Orlando, Lake Mary and Boca Raton.
Orlando -- Florida Digital Networks says it has secured $35 million in venture capital financing from a group led by MC Ventures Partners to pay off debt and acquire other telecom local exchange companies in Florida. Florida Digital Networks, with 350 employees and 95,000 customers, reported that revenues jumped from $2.5 million in 1999 to $43 million last year.
Universal Studios Orlando says it paid $85,000 to settle a suit that claimed it stole the idea for its Latin Quarter Restaurant at CityWalk. The plaintiff originally claimed damages of more than $500 million.
Darden Restaurants (NYSE-DRI) lost the top executives at two of its most popular chains when Bahama Breeze President Gary Heckel resigned and Smokey Bones President Bob Mock took a leave of absence.
Credit counseling service Inchard Institute of America laid off 81 of its 479 call-center employees, saying demand for its services has dropped as interest rates have declined.
Agere Systems' Orlando semiconductor plant suffered another round of cutbacks, with 80 hourly workers and 72 managerial/technical employees offered buyouts to resign. Another 22 white-collar jobs are slated for elimination in the next year.
The Federal Aviation Administration has commissioned a new air-traffic control tower at Orlando International Airport. The 439-foot tower, which cost $28.7 million, is the tallest in North America.
The Central Florida Blood Bank has agreed to buy Planet Hollywood's former headquarters building for $12.5 million.
Bruno Super Valu, the only grocery store in the impoverished Washington Shores neighborhood, closed amid allegations that black activists had urged residents to boycott the store because the majority owner was white. The grocery opened with the help of Orlando subsidies in 1997 and changed owners three times in five years.
Oscoela County -- The defunct Disney Institute will be reincarnated as Saratoga Springs Resort, a replica of the 1900s resort in eastern New York known for its mineral springs. The timeshare complex, slated to open in 2004, will include 184 new units and about 300 remodeled apartment-style rooms that were part of the Disney Institute.
Sanford -- Pan American Airways cut its flight schedule by more than half and laid off an undisclosed number of workers. The company plans to cut daily flights from 16 to six, most operating from its Sanford hub.
ORLANDO -- Manager Lou Pearlman and Options Talent Group plan to develop an online database that will allow aspiring actors, models, singers and athletes to showcase their talents with audio, video and photographs.
Talent scouts anywhere in the world will be able to search the bio of any participant who coughs up $595 upfront and $20 a month to be listed on the site, tctalent.com.