Monthly Archives: January 2023

Busin Votes Against Spending $3,600,000 to Buy 80 Acre Pasture for Future Site of LaBelle High School

I read an article published this week by the Caloosa Belle regarding the proposed future site of LaBelle High School which noted that I voted against the superintendent’s recommendation to purchase the site. The article heralded the perceived virtues of this purchase and omitted examples of concerns I referred to as common sense red flags (🚩) during the board discussion, and prior to casting the lone dissenting vote on a proposed $3,600,000 contract for 80 acres of pasture that was negotiated by Supt. Swindle.

Florida law requires that all legitimate offers and counteroffers be in writing for the state-funded acquisition of land. 🚩 No supporting documentation was provided that indicated negotiations occurred outside of accepting the initial contract from the seller’s agent for $45,000/acre. There was no counteroffer to the initial offer presented by the seller’s agent. Even if a counteroffer were declined, at the very minimum, it would have indicated a good faith effort to negotiate in the best interest of taxpayers

If an individual was seeking to purchase property and didn’t have the cash on hand to buy it, one would typically seek a loan from a financial lending institution. This is essentially what Hendry County School District (HCSD) is attempting to do through the Florida Dept of Education (FLDOE) by applying for special facilities funding designated to help poor, rural counties lacking the tax base to generate sufficient taxes to replace and/or build new schools. It was a no brainer to apply for this funding to build a new campus in order meet the seemingly ever growing enrollment at LaBelle High School. It’s the same program Glades County School District has used to build West Glades School, as well as replace Moore Haven Jr/Sr High School, and Moore Haven Elementary.

In order to apply for this special facilities funding, Florida law required HCSD to obtain two appraisals to determine the value of the 80+/- acre property, as a taxpayer protection against wasteful spending. These appraisals have standards and protocols that financially protect the lender (taxpayer funded FLDOE) as well as the buyer (taxpayer funded HCSD).🚩 The superintendent sought three appraisals of the property. The appraised values are listed below and linked to the appraisals received by the Board for review:

Calusa Appraisal: $1,450,000

Carlton Norris: $2,000,000

Wegscheid Appraisal: $3,600,000

It would be incredibly unrealistic to expect three separate appraisals to yield the same appraised values but multiple appraisals should fall within a reasonably justifiable range. 🚩 Wegscheid’s appraisal, valued exactly at the contract price, exceeded Carlton Norris’ by $1,600,000 and Calusa’s by $2,150,000.

If this were an ordinary citizen’s personal or business transaction, the lending institution would likely disqualify the highest of three appraisals due to the fact that it’s such a significant outlier. The ordinary buyer would either have to renegotiate the contract price or find another way to raise the $1,875,000 difference. 🚩 Superintendent Swindle said he averaged the highest appraisal (outlier) and the second highest appraisal to come up with an “appraised value” of $2,800,000; $800,000 less than the contract price. His proposal to fund the $800,000 difference will utilize future funding generated by the new 1/2 cent sales tax on residents of a county that meets the challenged economic criteria to qualify for special facilities funding.

The final 🚩 for me was discovering that the seller’s agent, who would collect a commission based on the sales price, is the superintendent’s former brother-in-law.

Special facilities funding from the FLDOE will not provide all of the funding for this project. If it is approved by the FLDOE, every dollar of special facilities funding used for the purchase of land over appraised value will divert state funds from being directed to the construction of spaces for students to learn and grow academically, socially, and athletically. The funds generated by the 1/2 cent sales tax will be applied towards paying the balance of the total cost for completing the project, and the higher that total is, the less funding will be available to be applied to other critical needs areas/projects in an expeditious manner.

My individual understanding of the basic principles of government and economics didn’t justify my support of Supt. Swindle’s recommendation so I voted against it. The recommendation received the super majority vote (4-1 vote on a five person board) required by Florida law to approve a contract for purchase of land over appraised value. 🍏

Hendry County’s Grad Rates Plummet to 4th Lowest in Florida

The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) released federal graduation rates on January 13th. As of the close of business on Friday the Board has not been provided with a report from the administration, so I have compiled the following information from the FLDOE’s website. https://www.fldoe.org/accountability/data-sys/edu-info-accountability-services/pk-12-public-school-data-pubs-reports/students.stml

FLDOE reports that Hendry County’s graduation rates experienced the largest decrease in the state, dropping from 90.4% in 2020 to 86.6% in 2021, and further spiraling down to 75.7% this year.

While CHS’ and LHS’ combined performance was 85.8%, their graduation rate was diluted by the poor performance of two online schools affiliated with the Hendry County School District and for which the superintendent and Hendry County School Board are responsible.

One of the online schools is the Hendry Online Academy. Students who have committed a behavior infraction that would qualify them for expulsion have the option of enrolling in the online educational platform in lieu of participating in an expulsion hearing. Hendry Online Academy’s graduation rate was 67.9%.

Digital Academy of Florida (DAOF) is an online charter school that enrolls students who reside throughout Florida. The Hendry County School District collects an administrative fee to serve as the host district for this online school. Regardless of where the enrolled students reside, their academic data and graduation rate of 64.8% is included with Hendry County’s outcomes, in turn driving down the collective graduation rate and overshadowing the outcomes achieved by Hendry County’s resident students attending brick and mortar schools.  Furthermore, an online school (and the district hosting) doesn’t receive funds (or administrative fees) for students who fail to complete.  

A county’s graduation rate is one of the public information points that site selectors employed by businesses seeking to start up, expand, or relocate take into consideration. Site selectors are ultimately seeking communities for their clients with a workforce that can help grow their business. A county with a graduation rate of 75.7% does not fare well in this selection process.

It begs the question of whether the administrative fee the district receives to sponsor a charter school that seemingly poorly educates students residing in other counties is worth receiving the lowest FTE funding in the state for Hendry’s resident students in addition to the economic stigma placed on Hendry County. It also begs the question of why the HCSD contract with DAOF was recommended for approval prior to graduation rates being released and why the school board still hasn’t received ANY information from the district administration about Hendry’s performance.