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Winter Springs Commission questions how development affects where kids go to school

When new housing is built in Seminole County, it can impact where local students get zoned for school. At Monday night’s meeting, Winter Springs City Commissioners discussed concerns over how neighboring cities’ growth affects Winter Springs students.

The discussion ignited when Seminole County School Board officials presented updates to the Board’s interlocal agreement with all of the municipalities within the county. The agreement coordinates school facility planning with local development planning to ensure that school capacity keeps pace with residential growth.

“One of the big factors that sets us apart from other communities is that we’re not as gung-ho in development and building,” Mayor Kevin McCann said during the meeting. “Say Longwood starts building 8,000 apartment units; those students need to go to school somewhere, and they’ll continue pushing this way.”

Commissioners expressed concern that development in bordering cities could push more students into Winter Springs schools, causing Winter Springs students to attend school further from home. Richard LeBlanc, Seminole County Public Schools director of project management and facilities, said he does not foresee such a scenario happening, but said it’s a legitimate concern that SCPS will look into. 

Developers wanting to build a residential project must first get approval from the School Board in the form of a School Capacity Availability Letter of Determination, or SCALD, before gaining approval by the municipality. Once a SCALD is obtained, county or city boards can decide whether to approve a proposed development.

LeBlanc said the School Board has never denied a developer’s SCALD request because there has always been capacity, if not in the students’ zoned school, then in one within a certain proximity to that school. This area is called an attendance zone.

LeBlanc said the School Board has never had to move students outside of their attendance zone. There are also statutes that limit bus-ride lengths to 50 minutes for elementary students and 60 minutes for middle and high school students.

Cannon said he thinks even 50 minutes to an hour is too long and that limiting growth responsibly can help curb that.

“Our job is to make sure the kids aren’t sitting on a school bus all day,” he said. “When it comes to children, if it’s a bus ride too far because of a high density apartment complex, we need to be able to say this isn’t compatible.”

Cannon also expressed concern that developers will leverage approval from the School Board to get approval from the commission.

“I believe it may limit the ability of us as a city to say no to development if the School Board is saying yes to every SCALD letter,” Cannon said. “If we say, ‘Where are the children going to go?’ they’re going to take that SCALD letter and throw it right in our face.”

Winter Springs is the last hold out

An amendment the School Board is proposing makes it so that changes can be made to parts of the interlocal agreement with only 88 percent of the parties’ approval. Cannon said he fears this could enable the School Board to make a variety of changes to the agreement, including taking away zoning control from the cities.

Deputy Mayor Ted Johnson said he thinks the 88 percent rule was meant to target Winter Springs.

“I think it’s a slap in our face. I would have a very difficult time moving forward on this with that language,” he said

Winter Springs is the final municipality of eight in Seminole County to sign the amended agreement, which was originally adopted by the School Board, the Seminole Board of County Commissioners and the cities in 2007.

The Commission is expected to vote on the new agreement in December but Cannon said he wants to have several more hearings with the School Board on this topic to iron out the Commission’s concerns.

“Based upon the flavor of the meeting, it doesn’t appear that Winter Springs is going to sign off on it,” LeBlanc said about the amended agreement.

If the amendments are not approved by Winter Springs, the original agreement will remain in place for all parties.

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