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Sunday, Aug 19, 2018
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Pinellas to look at high school start times today

Pinellas County school district officials have spent weeks analyzing bus routes and brainstorming ideas to see if later high school start times could be a reality this August.

Today will tell how far they have come.

Clint Herbic, associate superintendent of operational services for the district, will update the School Board on the work of a transportation task force.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hillsborough could start high schools at 8:30 a.m. Why can’t Pinellas?

In an interview, Herbic said a district routing coordinator has been assigned full-time to deconstruct every bus run using software simulations to see if later bus routes are feasible. He said the coordinator worked over the weekend and through Monday to provide the update.

"The more she gets done the more clear it becomes," he said. "We still probably have another week of work to do."

A parent-led petition drive has collected more than 5,500 signatures in favor of a later start time at Pinellas high schools. The current start time is 7:05 a.m.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: High school start times: Could they be a talking point in the 2018 Pinellas election?

Herbic’s presentation is scheduled to begin at 9:25 a.m. in the cabinet conference room at school district headquarters, 301 Fourth St SW in Largo. The meeting is open to the public but there is no opportunity for public comment.

Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

Also at today’s workshop, Herbic will provide an update on the district’s five-year plan for school construction projects. Documents posted online show that four projects totaling $17.8 million will be delayed due to financial obligations set forth by House Bill 7069, the controversial education bill passed by the Florida Legislature last summer and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. More than a dozen school boards, including Pinellas, have sued the Legislature to challenge the bill.

HB 7069 requires school boards to automatically share locally levied funds designated for construction and maintenance projects with charter schools. Pinellas is expected to dole out $6 million to charters this year.

At Orange Grove Elementary in Seminole, that put a $4.5 million, 12-classroom wing on hold that would’ve been paid for with those funds. To reduce the cost, the district hired the same contractor to do a similar, $4.1 million project at Cypress Woods Elementary in Palm Harbor. Although the Cypress Woods project would’ve been paid for with bonds, it was subsequently delayed.

Oak Grove Middle in Clearwater and Osceola Fundamental High in Seminole also have been delayed until the district can figure out the funding sources. The projects were originally on the bonded projects list, Herbic said, but later the district thought it could pay out of pocket.

The district was counting on the money that now will go to charters, Herbic said.

Projects at Gulf Beaches, Sexton, Ozona, Sanderlin, Seminole, Shore Acres, Skycrest and Pasadena Fundamental elementary schools could all suffer the same fate. They’ve been listed to be possibly delayed until 2021-22 until the district determines its funding sources.

District officials also underestimated the scope of work at six schools by $72 million.

Unexpected maintenance needs at Clearwater High, Tyrone Middle and St. Petersburg High contributed to most of the added costs. Those schools were budgeted to have interior renovations, but officials discovered larger infrastructure issues like aging heating and air conditioning systems and outdated lights and ceilings that needed to be addressed.

District officials will seek approval from School Board members to move forward.

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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