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Tuesday, Mar 03, 2015

Parents implore school board to keep Westside open


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BROOKSVILLE - Hours after the Hernando County School Board discusses the maintenance problems plaguing Westside Elementary School, parents, staff and students filed in to let school board members know how important it was to keep the school open.

A St. Petersburg-based architecture firm found numerous issues with the school, and recommended three of the school's buildings be demolished and rebuilt.

Director of Facilities Roland Bavota said it could cost about $4.8 million to complete all of the desired repairs, and at least $3.9 million to replace the roof and HVAC system alone.

A structural engineer is evaluating the facility, and the issue will be revisited during a May 6 workshop.

Bavota presented several options for the school, including closing the campus for two years, and relocating students to Pine Grove Elementary School, about 14 miles away. Other scenarios included setting up portables at Westside during construction, or closing the school entirely.

School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino let the crowd know that no decisions would be made regarding Westside's fate on Tuesday night, and about 10 people spoke during citizens input.

Karen Wilcox, who taught at Westside from 1989 through 2005, and drove down from Tennessee for the meeting, remembered the gardens planted by her students, and memory trees in honor of past staff members.

"Westside is a family, when you walk through there you feel a heartbeat ... if we tear out our hearts, what have we got left?" she said.

Other parents spoke about the support they receive from the school's community, and the invaluable services offered, such as food and clothing pantries.

Parent Stefanie Meling said if the school closes, she's considering removing her 4-year-old son, who will enter kindergarten next year, from the school system entirely.

"This is my introduction to Hernando County Schools and I am mad ," Meling said, adding she believes her son will be spending 10 hours a week on the bus to get to Pine Grove.

"Ten hours a week of practice on anything else, he would be an expert," Meling said. "And we're going to make my kid an expert in riding the bus."

After citizens input, school board members said it wasn't their intent to close the school, and they were still gathering information on whether or not the repairs are necessary.

"We want to hear from you," Board Member Matt Foreman said. "Our goal is never to close one of our schools."

Also Tuesday:

During an afternoon workshop, school board members heard a presentation on Superintendent Lori Romano's recent decision to convert class days to six periods.

Board Member John Sweeney questioned why the change didn't come before the School Board for a vote, and questioned if the shorter number of periods would take away options for extracurricular and elective classes.

"I just have a hard time thinking this is the right way to go, " Sweeney said. "I know these students. I've taught these students. I'm not willing to do that."

During the workshop, Nature Coast Technical High School Principal Toni-Ann Noyes said her school made the change to six-period days two years ago.

"We've had success," Noyes said.

Marcia Austin, who supervises curriculum, said the longer class blocks prepare students for college class settings, and Romano said she felt a "great responsibility" to make the decision, especially since the state provides funding for the six-period day.

Romano said the board has never voted on scheduling in the past. Sweeney said he was concerned it was a "slippery slope" toward "absconding" from the school board's responsibility as elected officials.

(352) 544-5283

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