LEE COUNTY — The Florida State Auditor said, for the second time in two years, Lee County Schools may have misused your tax dollars.
A report out last month shows property taxes, otherwise known as Ad Valorem taxes, were used to cover costs they weren’t supposed to. This comes after a previous audit in 2018 found the same thing.
Last year, the issue of the misuse of property taxes in Lee schools was taken up by the Florida Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Some lawmakers were not happy with what they saw.
“I just find it almost egregious that you’d get a bill in with services rendered, an interim bill of a half a million dollars, and we just cut a check for half a million dollars, when we should see a breakdown of all the equipment used, all the hours put in," said State Rep. Michael Caruso, in the February 2019 meeting.
Back then, the issue was $4.2 million dollars the district was accused of improperly spending on groundskeeping costs.
One parent and advocate, Jacqueline Perez, traveled to Tallahassee for that meeting to make her voice heard.
“Some of the bills from those companies, in 2017, for one day’s work: $124,000, $129,000, $154,000. There’s one for $169,000. This was Company B, who only has five employees," said Perez at the 2019 meeting.
The issue is property taxes are only supposed to be used for specific things. New construction, maintenance, renovations, or repairs to existing facilities. That’s about it.
But on this latest audit in May, it showed the schools bought new internet infrastructure with that money, for $1.4 million. We caught up with Perez to get her reaction.
“It should be concerning to everyone. I don’t have faith that they are actually doing what they should be doing. I still don’t," said Perez.
We also had the chance to speak with the district, and Chief Finance Officer Ami Desamours said they are making changes.
"We have instituted additional checks and balances, so additional reviews of those funds and expenditures within those funds quarterly in order to ensure that we are complying with what the state statute tells us," said Desamours.
And Desamours said the Florida Department of Education actually agreed that most of the costs were allowable.
“They affirmed or agreed with our appeal on 90% of the expenditures that were in question," said Desamours.
But Perez still feels the almost $6 million in costs, including the new ones revealed in this latest audit, aren’t justified.
“We need change in leadership. We need someone who will be accountable," said Perez.
Perez is now a candidate for the Lee County School Board. She said it’s issues like this that made her want to run in the first place.