SARASOTA — Whenever local lawmakers gather together, there is bound to be plenty of regional issues to discuss.
City officials with North Port, Venice and Sarasota along with elected officers with Sarasota County Schools, the town of Longboat Key and the Sarasota County Commission will meet Friday for the annual Convocation of Governments.
The gathering brings together municipalities to discuss a wide variety of issues. During the meeting, officials also provide an update of city and county issues, goals and achievements.
On the agenda this year, four main topics will be discussed.
• An update on hurricane evacuation center
• An update on dual enrollment
• An update on the Sarasota County Schools Police Department
• Affordable housing strategies
The hurricane evacuation centers update was requested by North Port. Of the 11 evacuation centers in the county, four are located in North Port.
The evacuation centers became a topic during a November City Commission meeting. Mayor Vanessa Carusone said at the time she wanted to ask for help from Charlotte County to provide additional personnel.
There are no shelters in Charlotte County and the majority of the residents evacuate to North Port and Sarasota County during Hurricane Irma. Some 19,000 Charlotte County residents sought refuge in Sarasota County during that storm.
Currently, the evacuation centers are manned by Sarasota County Schools staff and anything that happens at the center is overseen by the school district.
Carusone said in November she wanted the city to draft a letter to FEMA stating the city needs additional personnel from Charlotte County. City Manager Pete Lear suggested Carusone ask the School Board to join together with the city to approach Charlotte County.
The School Board will focus on dual enrollment. The issue began in April 2018 when State College of Florida pulled courses from Pine View School. Pine View students had options to take upper level math courses on campus taught by Pine View staff.
While students could no longer take dual enrollment courses online, the change in the articulation did not affect students taking classes online or on SCF’s campuses.
In the months that followed, SCF ultimately decided to not allow the courses to be offered on campus even after negotiating with the school district. The discussion Friday will allow the district to provide an update on what is being done to accommodate students.
Over the summer, Superintendent Todd Bowden instructed staff to look for options with other colleges to have on-campus dual enrollment again.
The school district will also provide an update on the Sarasota County Schools Police Department. The police department was started in 2018, following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.
The district decided to start its own police force to cut back costs of using officers from the cities of North Port and Sarasota, as well as Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
The raising of the police force caused tensions between Bowden and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight. Bowden and Knight spent the summer in a war of words over the force and how Bowden would raise the force in time.
Eventually the pair settled their differences and by Aug. 7 all of the elementary schools in North Port and Sarasota had Sarasota County Schools Police Officers.
The district spent the summer and fall hiring officers to have officers at the middle and high school level throughout North Port and Sarasota. The district also needs to cover schools in the unincorporated parts of the county — the city of Venice chose to continue to use the city police force for Venice High and elementary schools on the island.
One of the final topics will be on affordable housing strategies presented by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The county and municipalities have been discussing options for housing in the area.
The cities of North Port and Venice, along with Sarasota County have been trying to find a solution to housing in the area.
The meeting will wrap up with five minute comments from the cities of North Port, Venice and Sarasota, the Town of Longboat Key and Sarasota County.
The Convocation of Governments will begin at 9 a.m. on Jan. 18 at Suncoast Technical College’s main campus, 4748 Beneva Road, Sarasota, the meeting is open to the public and will allow for public comment before the start of the meeting’s agenda.