1. Hernando

School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

BROOKSVILLE — Busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts could headline the Hernando County School District's concerns in Tallahassee next year. As the district's legislative picture for 2019 sharpens, it looks like a local lobbyist will work on the School Board's behalf.

The School Board hopes to finalize its selection of a new lobbying group and the district's legislative platform in the coming weeks. Neither is set, but discussion during last week's School Board workshops pointed the way forward.

The board on Sept. 11 reviewed a draft of the district's proposed single-page platform, compiled from requests by staff, for the 2019 legislative session. It laid out eight major needs under three categories — transportation, teacher recruitment and technology. As the board tried to narrow down the priorities, members also noted significant needs that were not on the list.

Several members argued that the technology platform needed to list specific updates and how much each would cost. One might be technology to improve school security — possibly including new surveillance systems — with the hope that legislators would take particular interest.

"It's more school-related and may be something they'll wrap their heads around with everything that's going around from Parkland," School Board Chairman Mark Johnson said.

The transportation category had just one item, funding to buy new school buses outfitted with three-point harnesses. The board received the idea well — though Johnson argued that it may make more sense to retrofit existing buses with harnesses — but spent more time adding to the list of transportation needs.

They focused on adjusting the standard for which students are allowed to ride buses. State law requires school districts to bus students living outside a "reasonable walking distance" from their school. By the state's definitions,a student could have to walk as far as two miles from home to school, or a mile-and-a-half from home to a bus stop.

Board member Beth Narverud wondered what it would cost to tighten that radius.

"We are a rural county, and we do have a lot of dangerous roads that do not have sidewalks," she said.

The board made more headway in narrowing the teacher-recruitment category into a few main goals: more forgivable loans and scholarships for teachers; compensating teachers for certification fees; and reducing the emphasis on a mandatory general knowledge exam, which board members agreed could impede enthusiastic teachers who haven't thought about subjects like algebra in years.

"We had teachers who were outstanding, just outstanding, but could not pass this for one reason or another, whether it was a math situation, or in the case of world languages, making the translation into English," said board member Susan Duval, a longtime school administrator. "I really think that is something that needs to be addressed."

The platform will go through another workshop discussion on Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. School district spokeswoman Karen Jordan said the board hopes to approve the platform on Oct. 9.

In shorter order last week, the board tentatively decided on a new lobbying group. The top pick by all five board members was Trinity-based Sunrise Consulting Group. The group's president, Shawn Foster, has lobbied for Pasco-Hernando State College, Pasco County, Hernando County and the City of Brooksville.

Foster bid a $42,000 annual contract with a proposal that leaned heavily on his experience in and around Hernando County.

The board will vote to approve the group's contract on Sept. 25 during the 6 p.m. School Board meeting.

Contact Jack Evans at Follow @JackHEvans.