Members of The School Board of Highlands County said they felt more optimistic as they went through the walk-through tours of the school campuses this year. Why? They have the comfort of knowing the district will be collecting the half-cent sales tax revenue that voters approved last November.
The tour of the schools is an annual event, and this year included members of the Half Cent Citizens Advisory Committee.
While we believe the board should take a hard look at the maintenance on all campuses, as well as the security and technology needs at all schools, we strongly believe that the first priority for spending the half-cent sales tax should be the deterioration of the buildings. That, after all, was the key argument in favor of asking voters to pass the half-cent sales tax.
The half-cent sales tax revenue is to be used to address capital/maintenance needs at district schools.
Some residents have started to fear the school board wants technology and security issues resolved when they claimed during the election campaign that the schools were deteriorating. If infrastructure and buses were so dire, they should be first before technology and security.
School Board member Donna Howerton said prior to the tours that safety will continue to be the top focus of the board, but went on to say that as the coffers began to lessen the schools became in need of more maintenance, which if put off too long can lead to more serious problems, she acknowledged.
She said she hoped the district can catch up on those needs at all schools to provide a good and safe learning environment for students.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said the district in recent years has had nearly $10 million worth of project needs, but only $400,000 in the budget for facility projects. That’s why security issues were the main focus. Nothing else could be funded.
He indicated that those security concerns will again be the main focus of this year’s spending. Security cameras, fences and gates, and lighting projects head the list according to the Half-Cent Sales Tax Five-Year Plan. The total cost for this project alone totals nearly $313,000 for just this one category.
Averyt believes that carpeting and tiling will be one of the projects to follow the security issues. Some of the half-cent sales tax revenue will also go toward replacing school buses.
We hope the board will show more concern for replacing buses than replacing carpet and tile in classrooms. New flooring may be necessary, but better transportation for the students to get back and forth to school may be a more logical expense.
Eight new buses are scheduled to replace existing buses this year.
We agree with Averyt, though, it will be interesting to see how the school board prioritizes which projects get addressed first this year.
The School Board of Highlands County will meet Monday, Feb. 20 in a workshop to start working toward a prioritized list of projects for the year. They’ll meet at 5:30 p.m.
If you’re a parent of a school-age student, or have a good understanding of the real stories behind the work needed to be done at the school campuses, don’t be afraid to express your opinions. Get a list of addresses of School Board members on the board’s website, www.highlands.k12.fl.us. Email addresses are not available, so hurry and get those letters in the mail, or plan on attending Monday’s meeting.