Hillsborough school construction to slow considerably listen07/22/08 Seán Kinane
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Beginning in 2010, Hillsborough County Schools will go three years without constructing a single new school because enrollment numbers are not expected to increase as quickly as in the past.
This morning, the Hillsborough School Board held a workshop on the district’s five-year construction plan.
Cathy Valdes is the school district’s chief facilities officer. “For three years we won’t be opening anything or budgeting anything, I mean, except what we already talked about budgeting.”
Estimates for new school construction needs are based on demographic studies by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) and by Jim Hosler, a demographer contracted by the Hillsborough School District. Hosler is the Economic Redevelopment and Demographics manager of the TBE Group. He said the FDOE has drastically reduced its estimates of Hillsborough County students since last year. It now predicts only 1,300 more students in the county by the 2012-2013 school year, in part because of the bleak economy.
Hosler’s demographic analysis was not as pessimistic as the state’s, he expects Hillsborough to gain about 16,500 students over the next five years. But the school district is legally required to base school construction on the state’s predictions. Hillsborough lost an appeal this month to challenge that requirement.
This fall, one middle and two elementary schools will open and four schools will open the following year, but after that, no schools will be constructed in the county until 2013. If population grows as expected, there will be another middle school and 21 additional elementary schools in the next 10 to 20 years, Cathy Valdes said.
Even though there is a three-year gap with no new school construction, Valdes said the county will continue to plan and to collect $96 million in impact fees to pay for the next wave of school openings. Valdes said that even though new land might be purchased for future schools, the district has to be very careful not owe more money than it already does.
School Board Member Doretha Edgecomb told WMNF that a slow-down in new school construction makes sense.
Because of flat enrollment and to save money, Valdes said, the district will not purchase new school buses for three years.
School Board member April Griffin suggested giving some older students HART bus passes instead of running school bus routes along existing public transportation corridors.
The other school board members, includingEdgecomb, agreed that it was something that school district staff should discuss with HART.
School Board member Candy Olsen suggested that Hillsborough look into a program in Brevard County where the school district is charging parents for courtesy transportation of their children to schools outside their neighborhood. Edgecomb said that the term “bussing” has negative connotations even though it can have positive impacts, including introducing students to new ideas.
Beginning this month, Hillsborough County Schools will, in the words of School Board Chair Jennifer Faliero, “have a seat at the table” when it comes to development in the county. That’s because new development permits will not be issued if there’s no room in local schools to service the new residents.
The next School Board meeting is July 29 at 3 p.m. The first public hearing on the budget will begin after the meeting at 5 p.m.
Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF (June 2008)