New and renovated schools still not enough for Orange County

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

Channel 9's Greg Warmoth spoke with Orange County's school board chairman about a critical need for new and renovated schools.

With classes starting Monday, students will be attending five new or renovated schools, with 12 more set to begin construction this year.

But the school system said that might not be enough.

Right now the county has $2 billion worth of projects on the drawing board, but no money to pay for them.

That's why the school board will ask voters to extend the half-penny sales tax in 2014. That means instead of paying 6 cents for every dollar worth of goods purchased, it would cost 6.5 cents.

For the first time since 1955 students at Eccleston Elementary School will walk into a brand new building. For the neighborhood, it's a long time coming, and at $15.6 million it's an example of what a half-penny sales tax can pay for.

"It looks terrific. I want to check the inside out," Patricia Myers said as she got a look that the new Eccleston school building. Her three grandchildren will attend the school.

But building schools like Eccleston may slow down or stop in 2015 when the funding runs out. That would mean that Ferncreek and others would be unfunded, unless voters agree to continue the sales tax.

"It's absolutely critical. We have as many as 40 schools in need of renovation," said Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette.

And the county needs another four relief schools because unlike some other counties, Orange continues to add students.

"We have a real overcrowding problem here in Orange County and we need to extend this tax," said Sublette.

The last tax in 2002 funded schools like Eccleston. They are outfitted with the latest technology and security, and provide a sense of community pride for an area that lived with a rundown, dilapidated school.

Myers said that's why she will vote to extend the sales tax in 2014.

"If it helps kids, community, I'm all for it. But just don't push a sales tax and not have it come back into our schools and neighborhoods," said Myers.

At 6.5 cents, Orange County's sales tax is higher than Seminole County, equal to Volusia and lower than Lake and Osceola counties, who both have an extra penny.

Voters will decide whether to extend it in 2014 in either September or November.