BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County’s elected officials gathered last week to talk about common issues and how they might work together to resolve them.
The meeting of the Hernando County School Board the Hernando County Commission, the Brooksville City Council and Sheriff Al Nienhuis was the first any officials could remember. They were joined by staff members of the agencies.
The large group didn’t make final decisions on any projects, but members agree to continue discussions on several, including new vocation educational programs, ongoing efforts to improve student safety and the possibility of a public community swimming pool.
Dennis Alfonso, the school district’s attorney, called the gathering a "stakeholders meeting of government partners.''
The group heard presentations on the district’s plans for a two-story addition to Central High School for new vocational classes they hope to offer.
Sophia Watson, the district’s supervisor of adult and technical education, said current programs include welding, and heating and air conditioning services. In the future, they may include law enforcement and fire service classes, barbering and aviation mechanics.
A proposal for a stand-alone vocational school made it to state legislators last year, but failed. The district has submitted a new plan for the upcoming legislative session.
In this plan, the district hopes to build a two-story wing at Central High School that it could expand later. Watson shared an artist’s rendering of the facility with the group.
County Commissioner John Allocco asked if students would be reluctant to move from their local school to another campus to get a program that interests them. Students could spend part of the day in their home school and part in vocational classes elsewhere, school superintendent John Stratton said. The district’s program also will allow for flexibility, he said, so "if you change your mind, it’s okay.''
Commissioner Steve Champion supported vocational education, and said that the old belief that all students need college is not true anymore.
"This is a societal mindset change,'' Stratton said. "It has always been college, college, college, college, college.''
Nienhuis said he would like to have a local law enforcement academy. Currently, Hernando students must get their formal training in Dade City or Inverness, he said, "so it has been very difficult to recruit from Hernando County.''
"It’s been a long, long road trying to get this going,'' said school board member Jimmy Lodato, a long-time proponent of a vocational education.
The elected officials also discussed school safety, and the county director of public works, Scott Herring, reported on ongoing county efforts to build sidewalks near schools, so children who walk are safer.
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School Board member Linda Prescott, who chaired the meeting, asked if street lights were part of sidewalk projects. She remembered the student killed this year when he was struck off California Street when it was still dark out. Street lights are not normally part of such sidewalk construction projects, Herring said.
Herring also responded to questions about colors on crosswalks and the way signs are placed in school zones. He pointed out that many of the details are dictated by federal rules and cannot be altered.
Champion asked the school district to take a closer look at school bus stops on roads with 55-mile-per-hour speed limits. Having buses back up high-speed traffic is disruptive, he said, and buses in many cases could use side roads. District transportation director Ralph Leath discussed considerations in making bus stop decisions.
Lodato also urged officials to consider working together to build a community pool in Hernando County, possibly at Anderson Snow Park.
Allocco agreed that a pool would be nice, but said the cost of maintenance and liability insurance are daunting. Any pool facility also would need features that could make money, possibly park pavilions for renting.
Lodato said that some features are worth providing, even if they don’t pay for themselves. Quality amenities and good schools are the community qualities that attract economic development, he said.
School Board member Gus Guadagnino reached into his pocket to support the idea.
"Here’s your first dollar,'' he said.