The Lee County School District, as with many around the state, is seeking to find ways to retain its teachers as workers continue to feel the squeeze from rising housing costs in Southwest Florida.
“It’s beginning to be impossible to get teachers to stay with the lack of affordable housing here,” Lee County School Board member Steven Teuber said on Tuesday. “Rent being so high in the region and ownership becoming even harder to accomplish, setting down roots in our county has become a specific struggle that will only get worse as we move further without resolution.”
At a briefing meeting on Tuesday, Teuber and other district staff members said that Lee may need to consider unique ways to fund keeping teachers in the district.
“We have to consider more out of the box solutions for the school district, possibly liquidating some property assets we’re not utilizing, or really anything we could put a label on to move,” Teuber said.
Though there are multiple reasons that teachers leave school districts, such as retirement or promotion into non-teaching administrative positions, Lee does face losing teachers to other districts, or just leaving the field altogether, education activist and former school board candidate Betsy Vaughn said Tuesday.
“In 2017, Lee County experienced a 27 percent turnover rate for teaching professionals,” Vaughn said.
According to a worksheet on the district’s website, the base salary for a new teacher is $40,000, while a teacher with five years of experience could expect an estimated salary of just $42,500.
All over Southwest Florida, local officials have tried to grapple with how to keep essential personnel: teachers, firefighters, police, nurses, and other public service employees in the area as the cost of housing continues to rise.
The median value of a home in Lee County is $222,900, according to real estate analytics site Zillow.
But the median value of a home for sale runs over $277,000, nearly double what the median home value was just six years ago. Based on today’s mortgage rates, the average mortgage payment for a 30-year mortgage at that price point would run just under $1,050 per month — before accounting for insurance or property taxes.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers someone “cost burdened” once their housing costs reach over 30 percent of their gross income. That’s $1,000 for a worker making $40,000 per year.
For renters, the situation is no better. Zillow estimates the average rent in Lee County to be $1,800 a month — more than half of a starting teacher’s salary.
In other business Tuesday, Bonita Springs High School currently is under construction costs by about $722,000, according to a update given to the board, and is expected to return costs of $3.1 million. The first high school in Bonita Springs, budgeted at nearly $85 million after multiple cost overruns, is on schedule to open to students in August.
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