School Board Approves Lawsuit Against State Over House Bill 7069

Palm Beach County School Board members on Wednesday approved filing a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education and the state Board of Education, challenging the constitutionality of legislation passed in June that is expected to cost the School District of Palm Beach County as much as $230 million over the next decade from its capital budget.

The Board voted unanimously to move forward with the lawsuit.

The District’s legal challenge focuses on the capital outlay funds referenced in section 31 of House Bill 7069, which was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in June.

Under that section of HB 7069, school districts are required to share with charter schools the local property taxes designated for maintenance and construction of traditional public schools. Until HB 7069 was signed into law, that money had been reserved for school districts; the law now requires sharing those funds with charter schools, many of which are managed by “for profit” private companies.

“We have no mechanism to ensure that the dollars… are used for the benefit of those charter schools,” said School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw. “We don’t know where those dollars will go or how they’re being used.”

The effect of HB 7069 on the recently approved one-cent sales tax also concerned Board Member Frank Barbieri. “When we appealed to the voters in Palm Beach County to approve the penny sales tax so that we could satisfy the deferred maintenance and capital repairs to our infrastructure, we were often asked, ‘What happens at the end of the 10 year period?’ How will the District ensure that at the end of that period, the District won’t again be in a similar situation so that there are additional millions of dollars in deferred maintenance that must be funded? How will the District ensure that the taxpayers won’t again be asked to approve another sales tax referendum?’ Mr. Barbieri said. “And our answer was that we would use the capital funding we receive each year from the State to take care of current capital repairs so that we would basically be caught up at the end of the 10-year period. Now, however, with the allocation of capital dollars being diverted from the traditional public schools, it is unlikely that those assurances can be realized.”

This change in the process for distribution of local capital improvement property taxes to charter schools could cost the School District of Palm Beach County more than $230 million over the next ten years.

The first distribution of capital outlay funds will occur on or before February 1, 2018, which prompted Superintendent Robert Avossa and General Counsel JulieAnn Rico to seek direction from the Board as to the best approach to protect the District’s interests.

Charter schools in Palm Beach County were notified of the District’s intent to challenge the constitutionality of the capital outlay funds transfer referenced in Section 31 of HB 7069. The majority of responses from charter schools indicated that the schools would not agree to hold off from pledging that money until a legal challenge was over, nor would they even inform the District of how they intended to spend that tax money.

Ms. Rico advised the Board that the lawsuit could be filed as early as Thursday. Learn more about the legal challenge at www.palmbeachschools.org/HB7069/.