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District gears up for new school year

By Staff | Aug 22, 2009

Summer’s coming to an end on Monday when thousands of students return to school.
The Lee County School District opens its 2009-2010 academic year on Aug. 24. In 2008 the second day of school was cancelled due to the arrival of Tropical Storm Fay, but no storms are posing a threat to Southwest Florida next week.
“It’s hard to believe we’re back at school already — seems like just yesterday we were holding our graduation ceremonies for the class of 2009,” said Superintendent James Browder.
Browder, members of the school board and other district officials will visit schools on the first day of school. The superintendent will visit both Mariner High School and Gulf Elementary School on Monday.
The next two or three years will be challenging for Lee County schools as the school board and superintendent work to secure enough funding for education in tight economic times.
Half of the district’s elementary art and music programs were cut due to funding issues and the remaining fine art teachers will have to double up. Other instructional and support positions were also eliminated in the new budget.
Student enrollment has been a proverbial roller coaster over the last three years after it surpassed 80,000 in 2007, dropped by approximately 2,000 students in the middle of last year and could either increase or decrease depending on the economy and student mobility.
According to district officials, Lee County has a 40 percent student mobility rate and much of the district’s funding comes from the number of students it has enrolled.
Cycle 1 enrollment reports — student numbers between the months of August and September — show that enrollment increased by 10,000 students between 2004 and 2007, but last year the number of students decreased to 78,841 from over 80,000 in the middle of the year.
Mike Smith, director of Planning, Growth and School Capacity, said the school district still is taking applications from students who are either moving to the district or transferring schools. He expects enrollment to stay the same or slightly increase.
“I am expecting either a flat or small increase because we didn’t have the losses in the middle of this year,” he said.
The district keeps an official student enrollment count on the 10th day of school, he said.
When school opens on Monday the roads of Lee County will have 600 buses taking students to school and officials from the district want commuters to be cautious of children boarding and getting off of buses.
District spokesperson Joe Donzelli asked drivers “to take a couple of minutes and be more vigilant,” to avoid any accidents or tragedies on the first day.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office released a statement on Friday reminding families to stay safe.
For motorists, they recommend leaving early to deal with increased traffic, staying clear of buses when signals are on, and not speeding through a school zone — speeding tickets through a school zone will cost a motorist double.
For more information on traffic tips for the new school year, contact the sheriff’s Traffic Unit at 477-1000.