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Educational facilities benefit districts (EFBDs) are the newest way for school districts in Florida to pay for new schools.

Bellalago is the first community in the state to implement an EFBD. All property owners pay an annual fee of US$200 to cover the cost of financing a new school. Homes in the town are worth US$200,000 to US$300,000 each.

Approved by the state government four years ago, EFBDs work this way: an association of private landowners (in a housing development, for example) raises private money to pay for public educational facilities.

A symposium on public financing held in Tampa on March 14 included a workshop on the pros and cons of EFBDs. County officials learned that EFBDs allow a developer to issue bonds to raise large sums of money to construct a school in a new subdivision or development. Property owners then pay an “assessment” (really, a fee) for 20 to 30 years to pay off the bonds.

One county superintendent of schools, Roger Dearing, was quoted as saying, “I’m not enamoured with it. It has some issues.” For Dearing, the main problem is that EFBDs make it possible for developers to have a school in their subdivision without paying for it.

“They don’t have to spend their money to build the schools and they obligate future homeowners for the next 20 years and obligate future school boards that they must keep those children in those seats,” he added. “We can’t do that.”

- With files from the Bradenton Herald and the Herald Tribune.