giphy$52 million and $54 million are big numbers, and they got thrown around quite a bit during Tuesday’s forum between candidates seeking three seats on the Lee County Board of Education.

According to the report in Wednesday’s Sanford Herald, the three Republican candidates (Sandra Bowen, Phillip Helms and David Schau) repeatedly invoked those numbers when referring to the difference between what Lee County Schools asked for from the Lee County Board of Commissioners in the current budget year and the level at which the commissioners were actually able to fund the schools (the emphasized section is the Herald’s reporting – not a quote):

Though they stressed the importance of a nonpartisan board, differences in candidates’ political philosophies were apparent when they were asked whether they thought the Lee County School system was receiving enough funding from the Lee County Board of Commissioners.

Schau, along with Bowen and Helms, said that the problem was not with the amount of funding the LCS system was receiving, but with how it was being allocated.

“The school system received more money than it asked for [this year],” Schau said. The BOE asked for $52 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, and the BOC gave it almost $54 million. “Money alone is not the key. We have to use funds effectively. We’ve got to be good stewards of that money when we’re on the school board.”

The problem is that the schools didn’t ask the county for anywhere near that number in funding, and the county didn’t provide the schools anywhere near that number in funding.

According to the Lee County government website, the board of commissioners provided just over $15 million in local funds for the schools in its 2014-15 budget. That’s the same amount provided in 2013-14.

So where do the $52 million and $54 million numbers come from? That’s unclear, but it’s worth noting the county’s allocation to Lee County Schools was actually about $3 million less than what the schools asked for. Page 22 of County Manager John Crumpton’s budget message reads:

“The Lee County Board of Education’s submitted budget represents a $21,709,603 funding request, $18,761,103 for current expense and $2,948,500 for capital outlay. The current expense budget request is an increase of $3,423,053. LCSS’ capital outlay requests totaled $2,948,500 for FY 2014-15.

While not funding the LCSS at the requested level, the net total education appropriations in this proposed budget are the equivalent of 33.72 cents of the tax rate levy. “

Also notable is that the three Democratic candidates on the stage (including incumbent Mark Akinosho and former school board chairman Shawn Williams) failed to counter the erroneous point made by the GOP candidates. So we’ve got some candidates throwing out bad information, other candidates failing to correct it, and a media failing to fact check.

Sounds like a recipe for an uninformed public. See you at the polls!

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