BROOKSVILLE — Thomas Sarnelli beamed with pride as his daughter, Talia, and her classmates at Deltona Elementary School led the Pledge of Allegiance and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the Hernando County School Board and the very many parents who packed the council chambers on March 8th.
Led by Joséphine Spallino, the director and founder of the choir, called the Musical Doves, they followed their musical interlude with introductions, drawing applause from the crowd.
Talia and her twin brother, Toren, are 10 years old and in fifth grade at school.
“She loves to sing,” said Thomas Sarnelli. “She almost always has music in her headphones.”
The Doves had sung “I’d like to teach the world to sing” in a video that was shown at a school board meeting in February, to much fanfare.
Bus situation still pending
Good news from the previous meeting about hiring new bus drivers turned out to be premature, parents learned at the March 8 meeting, as board member Kay Hatch revealed that one of the four new recruits had resigned.
“We’re behind the bus drivers again,” she said.
Susan Duval, member of the board of directors, was absent from the meeting, without any explanation being provided.
Frustrations over school bus service have been a part of nearly every Hernando County School Board meeting and service shortcomings have been fed into hours of comment from the public and county commissioners, even though the county commission has nothing to do with the school. neighborhood operations.
The district is trying to buy 10 buses, Superintendent John Stratton said, hire more drivers and acquire more mechanics to repair the current fleet of buses, and students sometimes arrive at school late because of bus problems.
“These people on the bus are doing miracles every day,” he said. “It will get better. We try every day to improve it.”
School board member Jimmy Lodato lambasted and refused to vote in favor of adopting the Neola policy on the agenda, saying the rules regarding staff smoking and the use of medical marijuana are unfair to staff members, and possibly a reason why the district is struggling to fill vacancies.
Lodato also criticized the bereavement policies advocated by Neola, a consultant who provides a customized set of policies and procedures to many school districts across the country.
Although he doesn’t smoke cigarettes or use marijuana, Lodato said the latter was a big help to his wife as she battled cancer, although of course that shouldn’t be allowed. for people who drive a school bus.
“It’s a fact that medical marijuana helps,” he said, and said even Governor Ron DeSantis has come out in favor of medical marijuana.
“We have freedoms in this country, and there has to be a middle ground somewhere,” Lodato said. “Let’s see if there’s anything we can do to make it easier,” and so that employees aren’t afraid of being fired.
Neola’s policy passed 3-1, with Lodato dissenting.
Half a cent liability
The committee overseeing the half-cent sales tax is down to three people, Gregg Laskoski, Lori Sowers and Bob Widmar, and more members are needed, the council has heard.
“To date, from June through December, we have collected $6.6 million in sales tax revenue,” Sowers said. “For this year, we collected from July, $2,400 in interest income.”
In total, the panel has allocated $59 million to projects since inception and spent $52 million, and in calendar year 2021, it raised $1.26 million per month in collections.
“There are no questionable expenses, so it’s all going where the resolution said,” Sowers said.
Widmar admitted to being skeptical of the departure tax.
“I voted against it, and it was the worst vote I’ve ever done in my life,” he said, noting that he decided to be on the panel to make sure the expenses were correct. All the money, he said, was spent on capital projects, not donuts or other things.
“I’m proud to be part of it,” Widmar said. “People know what they are doing and do it professionally.”
Lodato thanked Widmar for his work and for giving “credibility” to the half-cent sales tax.
“It’s very important that we continue this work,” Laskoski said as he asked more members to oversee money coming in and going out. “We need a diversity of opinions.”
Lodato removed item #16 from the consent agenda to illustrate how some of the money is being spent.
A combination of impact fees and the half-cent sales tax goes to school capacity upgrades and fire alarms costing nearly $4 million, and gains efficiency by outsourcing the work to the same company, Ryman Construction, said Bryan Ragan, facilities and construction manager.
Capacity upgrades in the form of “concretables,” a kind of permanent portable classroom, are being implemented at elementary schools in Brooksville, Westside and Suncoast, he said.
Fire alarms are replaced in Brooksville and Westside.