Gateway Sun

About 15 years ago at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, I was getting ready to fly from Cincinnati to New York for a business trip.

The gate agent came on the speaker and announced that the flight would be slightly delayed, but that we should stay close to the gate to await further boarding information. That seemed to surprise the mechanic standing next to her, and the mechanic (without a speaker) told anyone who could hear him that the plane had an issue that would take at least 3 hours to fix.

The gate agent gave the mechanic a death stare.

I had to make a decision… Who should I trust? … The neatly dressed, well-spoken airline representative who told everyone they should stay close to her and wait to be told what to do next – or the man in the coveralls with large ear protectors around his neck and dirty hands who said the plane wasn’t going anywhere any time soon?

I headed to the bar.

When it comes to the differing stories surrounding the Lee County School District and their efforts to build new high schools, it’s the exact same predicament. Information is coming from both an official spokesperson, and from several ‘mechanics’ who know what’s going on behind the scenes.

A recent article from this publication sparked some NBC2-on-NBC2 violence in the form of conflicting reports from that network, and also forced the LCSD in to full-blown damage control mode.

In our report we said that two high schools would be built in the East Zone. One in Gateway and one in Alva. For the first time, Alva was publicly mentioned as a new school destination. Lee Schools countered back by telling NBC2 that only one school would be built in the East Zone – in either Gateway or Alva. (Welcome to the tire-fire, Alva.)

But who’s right?

The district is in a tough spot. Everyone knows that there are exactly zero dollars available for even one high school in the East Zone, let alone two. But they certainly can’t come out and say there won’t be a new high school in the East, and if they publicly declare that the East needs two high schools it could set off a firestorm.

So they’re saying one. And maybe they’ll start with one, but make no mistake … the district’s projections say they’ll need two.

Also in our report, we said – publicly mentioned for the first time ever – that Estero High School would be getting an addition built on to it. The LCSD confirmed, again to NBC2 (and by the way, thank you to them for putting in all this work on the topic), that the addition was being built, but there’s a caveat. We were told it was part of a plan that if nothing gets done in Bonita Springs in time they could use that as a temporary solution for the South Zone, but the LCSD decided to reveal to NBC2 that the addition to Estero High School is happening no matter what.

We also disclosed that original plans called for a high school in Gateway to be open in 2019. The LCSD confirmed that an East Zone school should be open by 2019, but did not declare it would be in Gateway.

What the Gateway Sun can also tell you is that the elected Lee County School Board was furious with the people in charge of finding a site for the Bonita Springs high school, because they tucked their tail and ran from the preferred site once Bonita Springs residents became vocal in their opposition.

In addition, we’ve been been told – but cannot confirm – that the LCSD got duped by local officials in Bonita Springs. City leaders told the LCSD (paraphrasing) “no no, don’t build on the land you already own … we’ll find you a better place to build closer to town!”… However a December 16, 2105 article in the Naples Daily News shows that city officials have abandoned the LCSD in their site search, and it looks like they’ve told the school district to sort it out themselves.

This all matters to Gateway residents because the LCSD has drawn a line in the sand. The district has loudly announced that a high school will be built in Bonita, and it will be built before anything happens in the East Zone.

Marc Mora, the district’s Director of Planning, Growth & School Capacity told NBC2 that both the South and East Zones would be getting new high schools. Mora says it’s not one or the other. It’s just that the South comes first.

LCSD Director of Communications Amity Chandler told the Sun this morning that the current hope is to build a high school at the corner of Bonita Springs Road and Bonita Grande Drive. But that plan has already drawn a ton of fire from local residents. (No, the District doesn’t own the land or have the money to buy that land – but if I understand Chandler’s email to me correctly, they plan to let taxpayers or an investor buy the land aeverything-is-awesome-2015-12-18nd lease it to the school.)

Chandler and Mora are spokespeople. Their job is to come out and perform the Everything Is Awesome! song for the public. But they’re simply out of touch with reality if they truly believe everyone is pulling in the same direction in regards to Bonita Springs. They’re also dead wrong if they think nobody is looking at other options.

By the LCSD coming out so strongly that a high school is going to be built in Bonita Springs, and announcing on the same day that Estero High School will get an extension, and that Alva is now being considered along-side Gateway for an East Zone high school …. what does that tell us?

It tells us that all kinds of plans are being formulated by the school district, and that they don’t reveal those plans to us until they have to. Is it really so far-fetched to believe they’re exploring alternative scenarios to Bonita Springs given the opposition they’ve faced? My sources have said they are, and I’ve confirmed that those people are in positions to know.

And here’s another thing.

The Sun has learned that LCSD Finance Advisory Committee is still discussing a sales tax hike to pay for schools in the East Zone (among many other things), despite the fact that the elected School Board officials swatted away that idea earlier this year.

So there’s obviously lots going on.

To summarize, the LCSD’s current position is that Bonita Springs is the priority and that they are committed to building a high school there before anything happens in Gateway (or, according to them, possibly in Alva).

And maybe they will build a high school in Bonita Springs, but the Sun is saying that we’ve been told Bonita Springs is still not certain, that there are some people who are ready to move on, and discussions have taken place among people who are influential to the process who want to know how welcoming Gateway would be.

So now you get to choose between the gate agent or the mechanic.

I’ll be at the bar.


About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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