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Two new schools may be delayed

With the county's high schools too crowded and decaying from the ravages of time, School Board members face some big decisions in the next few months over where to put their construction dollars.

And their wish list is bigger than their wallet.

That dilemma has the board taking stock of its holdings and board member Stephen Galaydick suggesting some controversial ideas for brick and mortar projects.

Galaydick wants the School Board to consider:

Delaying by two years the construction of an elementary school due to open in 2002 so the money from its $10.8-million price tag can be used for high school improvements; and/or

Cutting in half the size of the district's fourth high school, which can only be built if voters approve a sales-tax increase this fall, and waiting until later to add its vocational and technical labs.

Both proposals come as Hernando County's three high schools cope with a classroom crunch that has them housing 775 more students than their listed capacities.

The 2002 elementary school, and another set to open next fall, are aimed at reducing the size of elementary schools and cutting the number of portables.

But Galaydick said he thinks the 2002 school can wait a year or two if it means the high schools will get help sooner. "We need to make the high schools now the priority," he said.

The delay would mean elementary schools would have to maintain a slightly larger enrollment than they would if the 2002 school were built.

Yet Galaydick says the number of kids in each elementary school would, for a few years at least, be no greater than it is now.

Other board members, including Chairman John Druzbick, have expressed interest in exploring a delay in the 11th elementary school. They have even asked for a study of the needs at each high school and what could be done with a budget of $10.8-million or less.

But adding space to the existing high schools could force the district, which must justify new schools based on enrollment demands, to scale back its initial plans for the fourth high school.

That idea has been greeted with some hesitancy, particularly because of how it might affect the fall referendum on the high school.

The district's two main sales pitches for the fourth high school have been that its vocational-technical emphasis will improve the local work force, and that its 1,400-enrollment will answer the high school crowding problem.

Changing the game plan just months before the election could prove tricky. But Galaydick says the change would be only a matter of timing, not substance.

Superintendent John Sanders says that by 2002, when the fourth high school would open, there will be about 1,200 students to fill its 1,400 seats, leaving some breathing room for growth.

But Galaydick said the fourth high school's enrollment could be much smaller, perhaps as small as 900, leaving as many as 500 seats sitting empty at the new school.

The expansion of the school to 1,400 seats and the addition of the vocational-technical labs could come later, Galaydick said.

"I don't think it undermines us" in the fall referendum, Galaydick said. And it would enable the high schools to get relief earlier, he says.

Even without a radical course change, the board appears willing to support improvements at Hernando High, where parents are aching for a new two-story classroom building to replace the school's crumbling, old 100 Building.

A proposal to go ahead has been put on the agenda for the board's May 21 meeting. If it's approved, the new classroom building could be ready by January 2000.

It won't come soon enough for Hernando parents.

"We're out of the realm of just where to put the students," said Andy Hammond, Hernando High's School Advisory Council president. "We need to put them in space that's conducive to learning."

Board members expect to have the update to their five-year building plan complete by September.