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Lee superintendent begins town halls on proximity plan

The plan could change how kids are assigned to schools in Lee County
School bus
Posted at 6:05 PM, Sep 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 04:13:14-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Major changes could be coming to how students are assigned to Lee County Schools.

Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier held the first of three planned town halls on Thursday to promote his proximity plan.

The idea, according to Bernier, is to take a deep look at how the district assigns kids to schools.

Before school started Jami Hunter, a mother of six who recently moved to Lee County from Ohio, learned Florida runs its school enrollment differently than her home state.

“In Ohio when you’re in school, you go to the school that’s right there. Here, it’s way different,” said Hunter.

Florida state law allows kids and their parents to apply to schools outside of their neighborhood.

In Lee County, the district has divided each of its zones into three subzones where students can apply to schools in a neighboring zone.

“If you live out east, in Zone 1, you can apply to a school in Zone 2. If you live in Zone 2 you can apply to schools in Zone 2, Zone 3 and Zone 1,” said Dr. Bernier.

For instance, if a family lives near Pine Island Road in Cape Coral, that will put them in Zone 2.

The family could apply to have their kids attend schools in all three sub-zones, including J. Colin English Elementary, which is seven miles east of the intersection of Pine Island Road and Santa Barbara, or Gulf Elementary School, which is five miles away to the southwest.

“So, now I have kids in the same neighborhood, potentially, going to three different sites. I could have 7 children, all going to middle school, all going to 7 different middle schools,” Bernier said.

That vast spread of schools is a leading contributor, according to Bernier, to the district’s bussing issues.

According to a district spokesperson, the district has had an on-time rate of 88% for the first two weeks of the school year.

“We have to start looking at our proximity plan and how we assign children to school,” Bernier said.

“That’s part of our transportation issue. Maybe, as we grow beyond 100,000 (students) maybe we have to as a community come together and make some decisions about how do we make sure we are being efficient and getting children to schools on time.”

The School District of Lee County already spends significantly more money to bus kids to school than the state average.

According to the district’s own figures, SDLC spends 5.58% of its annual budget on transportation vs. 3.26% for the 10 largest school districts in the state.

The state average is 4.13% of district budgets being spent on transportation.

District officials say there is no specific proximity plan in place yet.

Bernier hopes to learn more from community members during the three scheduled town halls.

He hopes to present a draft plan to the school board by November.

“That’s the type of thing we have to tackle as a community so we can bring our transportation requirements back to an area that we can service our children and our families,” said Bernier.

UPCOMING TOWN HALL MEETINGS:

Thursday Sept. 8 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at San Carlos Park Elementary School, 17282 Lee Road, Fort Myers, FL 33967

Thursday Sept. 15 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at Tortuga Preserve Elementary School, 1711 Gunnery Rd. N., Lehigh Acres, FL 33971

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