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Fasano steps into fray between schools, county
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published August 20, 2007
At the outset of the 2007-08 school year, there are indications the high-profile brawling between school superintendent Heather Fiorentino and County Administrator John Gallagher could be eased by a new referee.
These aren't lunch-money-hoarding bullies. Rather, the Fiorentino-Gallagher fracas centers on who pays for what when it comes to roads leading to new schools. The volunteer referee is state Sen. Mike Fasano. He won't wear a black and white striped shirt. Fasano's offer relies on the green.
Last week, Fasano suggested the Florida Department of Transportation create a special fund available for road construction tied to new schools in high-growth counties. Such a plan should be free from future budget constraints in Tallahassee because DOT trust funds are separate from the state's general revenue accounts, which are expected to be reduced $1.4-billion in a special legislative session next month.
Fasano's idea is worthwhile, though certainly the details need to be ironed out. If successful, it could help resolve ongoing arguments over ancillary infrastructure costs associated with school construction. It is an argument not exclusive to Pasco. Last week, the Hillsborough County School District sued the Hillsborough commission over who should pay for such expenses.
The matter is headed to court because state law is contradictory. Different statues say school districts are not responsible for so-called off-site improvements, but must meet concurrency standards that require roads and utilities to be in place to handle the school growth.
The disagreements in Pasco stretch back years and initially surrounded less-expensive items such as sidewalks. Eventually, the two sides agreed the county would handle the expenses in exchange for the district's share of a fuel tax that averaged about $120,000 annually over the past three years.
The arguing escalated as road-building costs skyrocketed and as the district embarked on an aggressive construction schedule to ease crowding and meet constitutionally mandated class sizes.
Additionally, as opposed to tying new schools to new developments, the district has sought to build schools in urbanized west Pasco as the demographics changed from retirees to younger families with school-age children.
The most notable eruption came early this year when the district and county argued over $4-million worth of road projects for a new high school planned north of State Road 52 near Chicago Avenue in Hudson. It included a messy pandering to the school site's neighbors, a delay, a recommended denial and then eventual county approval of the school site.
State concurrency requirements now call for the two sides to negotiate a new contract, called an interlocal agreement, to determine who is responsible for off-site improvements. Future disagreements still are expected since the draft contract includes a dispute resolution clause.
Fasano, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee overseeing the DOT budget, compared his idea to legislation setting aside money for port authority projects at small coastal counties. That maneuver allowed state money to be used for the dredging at Hernando Beach. Both he and state Rep. John Legg promised to pursue the proposal in the 2008 Legislature. Their help is welcome.
It could quiet the intergovernmental squabbling.
More important, setting aside state transportation money for public roads to new schools should help ensure education dollars pay for the traditional school capital expenses like classrooms, buses and student computers.