Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando's schools need help more than its judges

The news is that we might — I repeat, might — get state money for another judge in the county and an expansion of the drug court program. That means, according to a representative of the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hernando County, that we need to start finding space right now!

Lots of space.

The drug court requires offices for a program manager, counselor and law clerk, as well as a conference room big enough for 15 people. The judge needs a hearing room for 12, a waiting room for 15, a private work area for a judicial assistant, and, of course, we can't expect him or her to get by without a private kitchen and restroom.

Add some mahogany paneling and granite countertops and they'd have a Brooksville branch of Tallahassee's infamous Taj Mahal. Someone needs to remind these people they're called "your honor," not "your highness."

This sense of entitlement is all the more puzzling because their club, while exalted, no longer seems that exclusive.

In fact, so many members of our local bar are on the bench, I'm amazed they can scrounge up enough regular old lawyers to appear before them.

And that's the rest of the news: This proliferation of judges is not going to stop anytime soon. Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. says that, over the next 25 years, the county will likely need to double its number of courtrooms, from the current seven to 14.

What do the commissioners say? About what you'd expect, according to Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt, who interviewed them all.

Skepticism about the urgency of the judges' needs was mixed with the realization that the county has a duty to accommodate them in the short term — minus, presumably, the personal washroom — and to start thinking about a significant expansion in the long run.

Given the county's limited funds (especially because it blew through about $12 million set aside for courts), it's a reasonable response.

Which, based on the commission's recent vote to keep school impact fees zeroed out for at least another year, is a complete shock.

As the Times' Danny Valentine wrote on Sunday, there's another group of people in this county with needs — the students in our schools.

And what deluxe amenities do they require? Schools with reliable heating and air-conditioning units, roofs that don't leak and ceilings that don't collapse, which actually happened last summer at Westside Elementary School.

True, not all of the county's schools are so bad off. But more of them will be if the district continues to scrimp on maintenance.

And scrimping is inevitable. Even if voters approve the continuation of a half-cent sales tax, the district will be about $140 million short of its capital needs over the next five years.

Impact fees wouldn't fill that gap, but they would help. And, obviously, this is a district that needs all the financial help it can get.

Sure, a respectable county needs to provide judges with professional, dignified surroundings, but not like it needs decent schools.

Nobody's going to move to Hernando County because of its nice courtrooms. They won't convince anyone to build a factory here or give our kids a chance to compete.

Yet the judges, I'm sure, will get something from the commission, while the kids get nothing.

Where's the justice in that?

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