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Hillsborough School Board postpones cell tower decision

TAMPA — They heard some tough arguments against the controversial policy of placing cellular towers at schools.

But members of the Hillsborough County School Board ducked a vote Tuesday to renew a contract on leasing tower space for a simple reason: they weren't sure what they were voting on.

Staff members initially couldn't find the most current version of the 2006 agreement with contractor Collier Enterprises, which has helped the district lease land to cell providers. And while the staff eventually tracked down the revisions, board members said they felt squeamish about voting on something they hadn't examined in detail.

"I want to see the contract we're voting on tonight, in its entirety," said April Griffin.

The board voted 6-1 to postpone discussion on the issue until the May 17 meeting, with Carol Kurdell casting the lone dissenting vote.

She said she would have voted to renew. Others weren't so sure.

New member Stacy White has helped rekindle the long-running debate in recent weeks, questioning the wisdom of delegating tower decisions to principals. Last year, schools earned $360,000 from the leases.

"We have delegated a lot of our powers," said Susan Valdes. "And at the end of the day, we are held responsible and accountable to the people who voted us in here to do what's right by kids."

Cynthia Shellabarger, whose children attend Mabry Elementary, was among eight residents who raised objections.

"They are not safe, and they are not legal," she said, pointing to a picture that she said showed an open, untended gate in front of a cell tower at another school, Pride Elementary. A child could have wandered in and been exposed to unsafe chemicals, equipment or radiation, she said.

"This should not be allowed to happen on our children's school grounds," Shellabarger added.

Board attorney Tom Gonzalez said the district is on firm legal footing in leasing the space for towers, with its chief facilities officer overseeing each deal.

But parent Carrie Grimail said opponents would continue fighting.

"How much money is this really worth?" she asked.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough School Board postpones cell tower decision 05/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:21am]

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