After more than a year of often tedious and acrimonious work at the staff level, Pasco commissioners today will be asked to bless the equivalent of a senior class project about to be sent off for a final grade.
In this case, the work product is a 44-page contract to implement the state-mandate for school concurrency — a bureaucratic term for ensuring suitable classroom space exists for the new students coming from new residential construction. The pact, known as an interlocal agreement, is intended to head off future fights between the district and county over where to build schools and who should pay ancillary transportation costs tied to school construction.
The question of who foots the bill for those so-called offsite road improvements is the subject of a lawsuit in Hillsborough County. A similar fight in Pasco would be fruitless considering the public picks up the tab either way.
Rather than a court fight, the Pasco contract calls for multiple attempts at dispute resolution, including negotiations between the county administrator and school superintendent; talks between the chairmen of the commission and School Board, and, if needed, joint meetings of the School Board and commission.
That so many steps are included in the contract is a strong indication that disagreements will continue in the future. Differing points of view are to be expected, but drawn-out solutions should not be. Now, the two sides are negotiating the multimillion-dollar cost of road improvements around a new high school planned for Hudson north of State Road 52.
That high-profile dispute went public in fall 2006 and illustrated the need for a better contract between the county and district. The earlier accord, in which the district forwarded fuel tax proceeds of about $180,000 annually to the county, was intended to pay for sidewalks and other minor costs, rather than new high-priced roads and intersection improvements.
Determining exactly who will pay for what in the future remains to be seen. Consultants are attempting to devise new parking and traffic standards for schools to reduce the amount of time motorists are backed up at the beginning and end of each school day. That, in turn, could cut the need for road changes further from the school sites.
The contract also requires shared recreational facilities when possible, a common request from the commission dais.
The Pasco School Board approved the agreement last week and commissioners should do likewise today. Though it formalizes school site acquisitions with new government committees — Staff Working Group, School Site Advisory Committee, Elected Officials Oversight Committee — the contract essentially promises better planning and coordination between the county and school district.
For instance, the county and city governments are to provide updated population projections to the district, which in turn, must share student-enrollment expectations and so-called student-generation rates of how many school-age kids live in what kinds of houses. Hint: A new four-bedroom split plan in Wesley Chapel likely will house more schoolchildren than a two-bedroom townhouse in Port Richey.
Better working relationships between county government and school district have been promised in the past only to dissolve amid emerging pocketbook issues and diminishing interest from elected officeholders. Reversing both would earn an A grade for this contract.