Florida School District starts search for new high school property

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    FLORIDA-Hallways and classrooms in Florida's public schools are beginning to get tight. And with development in this small school district on the rise, the community is starting to examine its options. Already the Florida Board of Education has begun to look for property to build a new high school. Since the process takes about five years, it's never too early to start looking. There is another option, though, and that is what Blaine Alverez-Backus wants the board to consider. Alverez-Backus has suggested that the board look at merging the Florida School District with another nearby district, most likely Goshen, because Warwick hasn't got room and Chester just built its own new school. Goshen schools are having their own population issues - proposals for more than 2,000 housing units have either been approved or await village and town planning board action. Sound familiar? Alverez-Backus knows the history, although this eight-year resident was not living here when voters in Florida approved a merger with Goshen over a decade ago only to have it fail in Goshen. It was not an easy time. Gloria McAndrews is president of the Florida Board of Education. This is her eighth year on the board but she remembers well the vote 11 years ago. "It was a very divisive issue years ago," aid McAndrews. "It was gut-wrenching. The community has finally healed. We really don't want to go through that again." Instead, McAndrews and the board have begun to look at land for a new school. She said no matter what happens, whether Florida's district stands on its own or merges, they will have to build a new school. "There is so much development going on, we have to look at what land is left and is suitable for a new school," said McAndrews. "This is very preliminary." Both Goshen and Florida passed their school budgets in May, Goshen overwhelmingly said okay to a $48.74 million spending plan, while Florida's $14.37 million budget passed by just 40 votes. Florida's district has two schools — Golden Hill Elementary School with 439 students and S.S. Seward Institute, a combination middle/high school with 444 students. Five administrators, two at the district level and three at the school level, combine with 69 teachers and 11 other staff members to complete this small district. Goshen has eight schools with 2,965 students. There are six school administrators and two district-wide administrators overseeing 216 teachers. Alverez-Backus just doesn't want the district to rush into this. He knows about the building pressures - he's been involved in several new building projects as a neighborhood activist and was instrumental in getting a flashing light on Dussenbury near an approved development. He just wants the issue to be well-thought out before rushing into a referendum vote. "What is going to build a better district?" asked Alverez-Backus. "There are 2,000 homes approved to be built in the next two years in Goshen so they'll be building soon too. There are tax incentives from the state to merge rather than to build two schools in two communities." Alverez-Backus has talked to the State Education Department about it. He said it would be prudent for both districts to look at a merged district instead of building two new schools, especially since the residents in Florida will bear most of the burden for their school. "There are no ratables here," said Alverez-Backus. McAndrews said the issue has been discussed recently, although briefly. "We're not interested in pursuing it," she said, something she and the board of education have told Alverez-Backus publicly. "The surrounding districts are large. They are not looking to increase their own populations. We're not going to have an option here." Diane Missailidis would agreed. A resident of Goshen since 1977 and a member of the district's Growth Committee commissioned by School Superintendent Roy Reese earlier this year to look at issues related to growth in Goshen. "It would not be beneficial to Goshen students, the taxpayers, or the Florida students coming in," she said. "We truly are inundated with students. We have to focus on how to deal with our population as it exists now and in the near future. We have to deal with Goshen's students and Goshen's residents." Alverez-Backus wants to take it a bit slower. He said that if the board puts a building referendum up to the voters and it is approved, merging is no longer an option. "It is premature to get into discussions with Goshen on merging districts," said Alverez-Backus, noting that Goshen is just starting to look at their own growth issues. "But we have to weigh what the community wants with what is best for the community. It's a difficult and heated issue, but it boils down to what will create the best district for the taxpayers. Let's do it smartly."