On Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2019, members of the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), Brooksville City Council, the Hernando County School District and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) convened to discuss matters of post-secondary education, bus stops, traffic and pedestrian issues surrounding K-12 schools.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss these matters, and their associated projects among the different agencies.
Supervisors of Adult & Technical Education, Sophia Watson and Beth Lastra of Suncoast Technical Education (SunTech), began the presentations, highlighting the focus of career and technical training. Watson began the presentation by reporting data from The Florida Chamber Foundation, which showed several economic data points collected by the organization.
Hernando County shows several areas of improvement in the unemployment rate, high school graduation rate and an increase in housing permits. Other economic markers such as the poverty rate and money introduced to the county economy also show favorable improvements.
Fully accredited since 2017, SunTech offers areas of study such as Automotive, Applied Cyber Security, Cosmetology, Air Conditioning and Welding. Its facilities are currently located on the campuses of Central High School and Nature Coast Technical High School.
SunTech’s current enrollment is at approximately 60% with a capacity of 122 students. They hope to increase capacity to 225.
During the next legislative appropriations cycle, SunTech will seek funds for a proposed two-story wing to the CHS campus to provide space for new programs and accommodate SunTech’s future growth.
Watson emphasized, “Expanding SunTech does not take away from our current Secondary programs, or from our State College Offerings,” rather, its goal is to work together with those entities and create alternative pathways for students to secure training, employment, and future college attendance.
Commissioner John Allocco asked about potential problems where high-school students may not have access to SunTech programs because they attend a different school, or may be undecided in how to choose a field of study. Superintendent John Stratton answered that the district is planning to build in a mechanism for a student to attend both schools if desired.
School Board member Gus Guadagnino added that a program called “Stackables” is being created at the high-school and college level. Guadagnino explained, “(Students) can take a program that will take (them) in ten different directions, and it’s more to get that creative thinking and ingenuity going … It may not get freshmen into a career track, but it will get them thinking more creatively about what they can do with their life if they’re not going to college.”
School District Vice - Chair Linda Prescott added that the district also offers several career-oriented functions to introduce young students opportunities to explore their interests.
Stratton summarized the goal for a “societal mind-shift,” in acknowledging that prestige comes with other forms of education aside from college.
“It is our goal to change … and create the mindset that regardless if you’re college-bound, career and technical bound or military-bound, it is of equal prestige. We’re building the pathways for that. As we build those pathways, we’ll always try to provide bridges, that if you (the student) change your mind, it’s okay. (A student) may not go to college yet, or they may go to college, then decide ‘this isn’t for me,’ and do career (training).”
SunTech is exploring with local businesses to determine future need in the following areas:
CDL Class B
Diesel systems tech
Early childhood education
Law Enforcement and correctional
School Sidewalks and School Zones Update
County Engineer Scott Herring led the presentation noting that the Local Agency Program (LAP) responsible for the construction of sidewalks within school zones are federally funded. With federal funds, come additional requirements.
Construction to take place in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 are: Deltona Blvd from Spring Hill Drive to Begonia Street, Explorer K-8, JD Floyd Elementary, Brooksville Elementary from Howell Ave. to Croom Rd., and Westside Elementary.
Herring made the agencies aware that that the process takes about 8 years to complete. In the case of Deltona Blvd. from Spring Hill Drive to Begonia Street, the application process began in 2012, and is expected to be completed in 2020.
“8-10 years is about the typical time it takes,” Herring explained.
Hernando County competes for the funds for these projects -- as a district of five other counties -- with the entire state.
Design Projects for FY 2020 are Linden Drive from Coronado to Spring Hill Drive, Deltona Blvd. from Elgin to Cortez Blvd, and Elgin from Deltona to Mariner Blvd. Expected completion for these projects is 2022.
The goal of the sidewalk projects is to expand networks around schools.
Projects funded from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Work Management Program will begin construction between 2021-2024. These are West Landover Blvd from Northcliffe to Elgin and South Linden Dr. from County Line Rd to Spring Hill Drive.
Eastside Elementary school sidewalks are also included in this plan; Raley Rd. from US 98 to Roper Rd, and Fox Chapel middle school; Freeport Drive from Deltona Blvd to Northcliffe Blvd.
Sidewalk projects that have had applications submitted to the state, however are currently unfunded are: Sunshine Grove Rd, from Ken Austin Pkwy to Hexam Rd., California St. from Spring Hill Drive to Powell Rd., Cobblestone Drive from Pinehurst to County Line Rd., West Linden from Spring Hill Drive to Mariner Blvd., Amero Lane from Coronado Drive to Anderson Snow, Nightwalker Rd from Cortez Blvd. to Madrid Rd., and Spring Hill Drive from Spring Park way to US 41.
Sunshine Grove Rd. is the #1 project for Hernando County, and ranks #6 on the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) list of priority projects for Citrus and Hernando.
The second most important is the length of California Street from Powell Rd to Spring Hill Drive. This was the road on which Hernando High School sophomore Trevor Bowen was struck and killed by a van in September 2019.
Commissioner John Allocco commented that the sidewalk projects are a necessary result of the bussing policy of requiring school bus riders to live at least two miles from their zoned district school. However, Allocco requested that the BOCC have access to information on the locations of bus stops in order to make decisions under the county’s purview, such as street lights.
Commissioner Steve Champion expressed concern and asked for changes for school bus stops on major thoroughfares, particularly in rural areas. “These are 55 mile-per-hour roads, in rural areas, and we’re stopping buses on the road.”
Part 2 of the meeting: