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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 6, 2012 5 years ago

Letters to the editor 9.06.12


+ School Board article included errors
Dear Editor:
Regarding the Aug. 30 article about the joint meeting of the Sarasota County Commission and the Sarasota County School Board, “Portable county classrooms to disappear in three years,” there were several inaccuracies:

Micki Ryan is a planning analyst for the Sarasota County School District but she was not at the meeting. Sarasota County Government Planning Department staff members Tom Polk and Tamara Schells briefed commissioners and School Board members about demographic trends. I also addressed the commissioners and board members about school district enrollment trends.

The county’s demographics did not prompt the school district to “pitch plans of phasing out portable classrooms.” We have had plans to reduce our reliance on such classrooms for a few years.

I did not refer to “the lure of charter schools.” While the reporter did not attribute that phrase to me as a direct quote, it is not an accurate paraphrasing of my comments.

The “build-outs” of Riverview, Booker and Sarasota High Schools are not designed to “increase student capacity” at those schools. Rather, the rebuilding of RHS and BHS and the renovation of SHS are designed to replace older structures and make those schools more conducive to 21st century learning. The new facilities are designed to last 50 years or longer.

A reference to the charts about Sarasota County population ratios in 2010 and projected ratios in 2040 are attributed to Ms. Ryan, who again, was not at the meeting. I did not say that the forward estimates for charter school enrollment show a “positive trend.” Again, this was a paraphrase, but it indicates a value judgment. “Upward trend” would have been a more appropriate paraphrase of my comments. And we forecast for enrollment trends in all our schools, so I’m not sure what the reporter meant by “The forward estimates for charter schools have a shorter timeline” (perhaps he meant shorter than the timeline of the county’s population projections, but his meaning is not clear).

The sentence in the last paragraph, “Sarasota County is one of the few school districts required to split state funding for capital projects with charter schools,” is incorrect. We are one of a few school districts in the state to share capital funding voluntarily and proportionately with charter schools. We are not required by the state to do so, and the word “split” makes it sound as if we give charter schools half of our capital dollars. We do not.

We would appreciate it if the reporter would be more careful in future stories. We are happy to provide information about the school district to reporters who call us to check their facts.

Ken Marsh

Director of Long Range Planning
Sarasota County Schools

+ Privatize Selby Five Points Park
Dear Editor:
I was delighted to see your comments in the Aug. 30 edition about the idea of the management of Five Points Park by a private entity.

I was delighted because it sounded as though you recalled and liked the effort I made in late 2010 through 2011 to create a Five Points Park Improvement District, which would manage park landscaping and develop program activities on a continuous basis for the park. You specifically mentioned the highly successful Bryant Park and Central Park models in New York City, which I used as the basis for my proposal.

The Downtown Improvement District appointed me chair of an ad-hoc committee to develop the idea. The City Commission was interested in exploring the idea and encouraged me; the city attorney helped me research the legal basis for the district; and I made a series of presentations to downtown Sarasota condo residents who would fund and manage the district with ad valorem taxes on residential property. These presentations initially met with enthusiastic support.

The resident support came to a screeching halt for two reasons. A strong confrontational approach to the vagrancy problem in Five Points Park was urged by some downtown residents, which, of course, would not have resulted in any additional ad valorem tax, but which I believe has since blown up in the faces of those who advocated it and made the vagrancy problem worse. 

In addition, the Downtown Improvement District began to explore the possibility of taking streetscape responsibilities for much of downtown, including Five Points Park. When downtown residents became aware of that and that such an effort would not result in any additional ad valorem tax on residential property, they resisted my idea, saying they didn’t want to pay for something for which another entity was going to take responsibility.

Five Points Park should be our downtown civic space, full of activity that builds on the creativity and arts focus of our city. As long as people advocate for passive dead space with little or no activity in the heart of downtown, undesirable activity will move into that vacant space. This should be a place where our community comes together to enjoy and learn from each other.

I still think this idea has value and can work. New York City has about 30 of these organizations that have demonstrated that they increase both commercial and residential property values, reduce property turnover and generate significantly increased economic activity and value.

If any of the organizations with an interest in the vitality and success of our downtown want to work with me, I’d be willing to try again. 

Ken Shelin

Downtown resident
and former city commissioner

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