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MARCO ISLAND — Political wrangling over Island land owned by the Collier County School District and the proposition for a Marco high school continues.
Collier County School District Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute said Tuesday that the state of Florida will not grant the district permission to build another high school.
The reason? Several Collier County high schools have vacant seats.
The issue came up during the operations subcommittee meeting Tuesday afternoon. By early Wednesday, Islanders working to get an on-Island high school regrouped based on information shared in the meeting.
Committee member James Horner brought the issue up Tuesday, asking what was happening with Tract K, the 11.6 acre parcel, which is located on the west side of Tigertail Court between Somerset Drive and Century Drive.
The property, along with the piece of land that holds Tommie Barfield Elementary School and the Marco Island Charter Middle School, was given to the district by the Deltona Corp.
The Tommie Barfield site was given to the district to be developed into a school. Tract K has no such requirement in the deed, the Naples Daily News reported Tuesday.
Jada Shigley, the public relations designee for the Island high school initiative, said the property is referred to as a “school site” in the deed so it is meant for a school.
LaBute told the committee that there are 325 high school students on Marco Island. Of those, 289 attend Lely High School. The remainder attend high school elsewhere, she said.
LaBute said the district has more than adequate vacancies at Lely, Golden Gate, Barron Collier and Naples high schools to accommodate the high school students on Marco Island. Those schools have vacancies as a result of declining student enrollment.
LaBute said to construct a new school, the district has to show a need for a new school. There is not one at this time, she said.
“Just because CCSB has set criteria for high schools in terms of size and offering everything to everyone does not make their policies practical, effective or even realistic,” wrote Shigley in an e-mail to the Eagle Wednesday.
Even if there was a need for a high school, LaBute said the district would not be able to offer the Island’s 325 students the types of programs or activities that larger high schools have. A small high school in the district has about 2,000 students, she said.
In addition, she said the minimum amount of land the district needs to build a high school is 17 to 23 acres for elementary schools. High schools, with athletic fields and other amenities, would need even more land.
“You could potentially build a small three-story school on it,” LaBute said.
The site was once considered as a potential place for the Marco Island Charter Middle School. The site was nixed, however, when the district discovered a nest of eagles in the center of the property, LaBute said.
The Collier County School District proposed putting a four-acre solar field on Tract K and donating the remaining seven acres of land to the city.
Two grant proposals totaling more than $3 million were put forward by the district and Marco-based United Energy Technology to fund the proposed solar project, which would provide energy to the schools on Marco Island. Monday, those plans did not make the short list of energy projects to be funded by the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.
After the state announced no grants for Tract K solar on Monday, the district said no high school by Tuesday.
“We had no intentions to ask the county for a new charter school. We have explored other avenues,” said Fay Biles, an Island proponent for a future Marco high.
There is a process by which those interested could directly petition the state for a high school.
While those rallying for the school say the movement will continue, they expressed some frustration.
“Instead of encouraging and fostering our ideas and motivation for improving education, all we hear from CCSB is ‘No, No, No,” Shigley said.
“The School District uses empty seats as the criteria of a system based on dollars and head count, not one based on education,” Shigley added.
Islanders who support a high school of excellence are encouraged to meet Saturday.
The meeting will cover the launch of the new Web site marcohigh.com, land-use, grants and other funding options. The group will meet 1 p.m. Saturday at Marco Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall,
Interested attendees are encouraged to contact Island resident and high school initiative member Jane Watt via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.