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Letters fuel turmoil between school board and BOCC

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During the Oct. 26 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) regular meeting, the board addressed a letter that was received from the Hernando County School Board. The letter was sent in response to the BOCC’s letter to the school board citing concerns of traffic backups on roadways during student pick up and drop off times at area schools. The response letter written by school board chairwoman Linda Prescott, addressed the traffic and safety concerns relating to school pick up and drop off times, as well as the county’s responsibility to address the student growth that’s taking place. Here are a few excerpts from the letter:

“Long lines to pick up and drop off kids creating twice-a-day traffic jams along with bus driver shortages are problems not only in Hernando County and Florida but also across the nation. Be assured that the Board, District, and Staff are doing and will continue doing everything possible under the circumstances and with the resources available to provide for the health, welfare, and safety of students, employees, and our community. The impact of this growth is taking its toll on our schools and community, as well as the County’s roads and infrastructure. Many of our schools are faced with the challenge of having students arriving and dismissing from schools initially built for less students on two-lane county roads that barely accommodate a school bus.”

“If the County would focus more of its concerns on its legal responsibility to mitigate the impact of the growth and work collaboratively with the School Board to address the growth challenges including the long drop-off and pick-up lines at schools, we can make advances towards improvements for our schools and community. The Sheriff and Department of Transportation are trying to help and to work with the School District to alleviate some of the delays.”

After school board member Jimmy Lodato addressed the county commission in regards to the workforce education center and the issue of school traffic backups, Commissioner Champion said, “I’m frustrated with the School Board’s response, because I know it’s just a bunch of excuses. How many times has the BOCC asked you to turn off the 203 lights at Challenger K8? I drove by there the other day, the school bus drop-off line still has 100 incandescent lights burning all night long. Why are they burning? They are not LEDs. I went and looked at them.” School board member Jimmy Lodato stated that they have changed lights in the schools to LEDs like the overhang lights.

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Commissioner Champion stated, “You guys have raised taxes three times in a row, most recently 20% and all five of you board members voted for it. We have new numbers that came out for Florida: second lowest infection rate for the entire country, yet you guys vote masks back in. And you’re one of them that voted for it (talking to Lodato), I can’t support anything that the school board is doing because I don’t agree with what you’re doing.”

(During the school board meeting that evening, the mask mandate on school campuses was rescinded with the caveat that it may be put back in place should the COVID numbers warrant it.)

Champion said, “You should take some of this advice because the governor was just here and the school board was not invited to go and take a picture with him. Why is that? I don’t know for a fact, but I would guess he doesn’t want to be seen with a bunch of School Board members that raise taxes and go against his policies.”

He continued, “So, I saw in that letter a bunch of excuses on why we can’t get cars on school lots. By JD Floyd Elementary all of the houses around that area have banners in their yard saying ‘Do not block the driveway’, ‘Do not drive on my grass’. Why do private properties have to deal with that? When you have 18 acres behind the school and you have a half-cent that’s for capital. The voters will understand that you should use that capital to fix the problem. It’s illegal to stack these cars on a 55 mph road. We’ve talked about this. Why isn’t the response from the board that you guys agree and we should work together to figure out a solution?”

Commissioner Champion pointed out that Lodato stated he had not seen the letter that was sent to the BOCC. But, he is required to approve the letter before it is sent out; he did not read it before approving. Lodato explained he was dealing with a death over the weekend and was not able to.

Jimmy Lodato responded to Champion, “1 mil for schools was supported by a majority vote of this community. For our citizens, our parents, our teachers, and staff; When you say, and you did say this, that you don’t care what the voters say, insults me. And I don’t appreciate that. I listen to them and I care what they say. They want their children taken care of and I’m here to serve them. You can sit there and point fingers all you want. With the way you act, it’s going to cause us a major problem in this community when I try to bring outside corporations in here. And you’re gonna be the one to blame because you don’t do that. I don’t hear that from Mr. Allocco or the rest of the board; Only from you. You only represent your party and nothing else. But there’s (sic) 190,000 people living here and I don’t appreciate you showing me disrespect when I come here in a respectful way. I am a man of God and you will not treat me this way. I will not stand for it.”

Full letter written by School board chairwoman Linda Prescott to BOCC and supplementary materials:

School Board Response Letter
Traffic and Pending Traffic Solutions
School Impact Fees Historical

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