Months are passing since school began, and Pasco County and Pasco County Schools appear to be no closer to finding a solution for a lack of county sidewalks than they were on opening day in August.
The Pasco County School Board has sent a letter to the Pasco County Commission asking the county to put a priority on getting some sidewalks built.
But as of Oct. 4, there had been no response from the county board, according to Pasco County school board member Megan Harding.
A shortage of bus drivers and insufficient state funding for transportation prompted the school district to drop “courtesy” busing for students in grades six through 12 who live within 2 miles of school.
That action prompted an outcry from parents who are worried about their children’s safety, as they walk to school on roads that often have no sidewalks or street lighting.
Parents have appeared at school board members expressing their concerns and describing conditions they believe are dangerous to their children.
In many cases, parents said they are not able to give their child a ride to school because they have to be at work.
A suggestion was made at one school board meeting to allow children who are walking to fill empty seats on the bus.
But Superintendent Kurt Browning said the district can’t do that because it would be inequitable to similarly situated students the district could not accommodate.
Meanwhile, the school system continues to deal with a driver shortage.
“We currently have 54 vacancies for our regular 331 routes,” Harding reported to her colleagues.
Many students are still arriving late to school and are not getting home on time, she said.
“I am worried about those students who are missing first period,” Harding added, noting she’s heard that students are being given an unexcused absence when they don’t arrive on time to get to class.
Harding said she’s discussed the problem with Betsy Kuhn, assistant superintendent for support services and it is being addressed.
School board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said work to provide additional sidewalks can begin soon.
“We’re seeing a lot of complaints with parents, having 11-year-olds, not having safe walking (conditions),” Armstrong said.
On another issue, the school board agreed with a plan to provide 2.37 acres of right of way in conjunction with a new townhome project across from Woodland Elementary School in Zephyrhills. As part of the project, the development is required to make improvement to Henry Drive, which runs along the south side of Woodland Elementary and Zephyrhills High.
In exchange, district staff has negotiated that a crosswalk, with pedestrian flashing beacons, be installed along Henry Drive at a location to be determined in the future.
The improvement will be made when the City of Zephyrhills develops its park site, adjacent to Woodland Elementary, which is expected soon.
In other action, the school board has selected the Williams Company, of Tampa, to be the construction management firm to oversee the construction of a new classroom building at Starkey Ranch K8 School, in Odessa.
The preconstruction services component is established as a fixed fee in the amount of $39,659.52. In addition to these base services, there is an additional $2,000 in not-to-exceed allowances.
The guaranteed maximum price proposal for the project will be presented to the school board at a later date.
Published October 12, 2022
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