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Local News

  • Levy County graduation rates top State average in 2018

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Levy County School District’s graduation rate for the 2017-18 school year rose to 87 percent surpassing the State graduation rate of 86.1 percent.

    Superintendent of Schools Jeffery R. Edison said the number of students graduating in Levy County fluctuates from year to year. School Board of Levy County recently prepared a total of 368 high school diplomas. Bronson Middle High School had 93, Cedar Key High School had 14, Chiefland Middle High School had 96 and Williston had 165 diplomas to award.

    Edison attributes the increase in graduation rates to the strategies initiated by the overall mission of LCSD and the execution of a comprehensive countywide strategic plan.

    “It’s a lot of hard work from our teachers and staff who focus on our kids that are not passing State tests,” he said. “It’s working with individual kids to make sure they have a plan to be successful.

    “We have hired graduation coaches, they work with counselors and our kids are doing a better job.”

  • City considers charging event planners for road closures

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    The Chiefland City Commission is considering a fee schedule for events held in city limits that require road closures.

    Mayor Betty Walker raised the topic as new business during the Jan. 28 meeting, and commissioners and the Police Chief Scott Anderson starting doing the math on what it costs taxpayers every time roads are closed.

    “I think when we are doing new events, I think they need to pay a price,” Walker said. “I think some other cities are going to that.”

    Commissioner Tim West suggested setting a maximum amount and agreed that tax payers shouldn’t foot the bill for some events that rent out booths or sell tickets.

    City Manager Mary Ellzey explained that events such as festivals held at the City park cost taxpayers, but also generate revenue for the event holder.

    “Maintenance, police and fire go out and block the roads. There is a cost to the City for closing the roads,” she said.

  • Inglis community gets first look at Bird Creek Boat Ramp rebuild plans

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    At 4 p.m. on Jan. 23, boater Mark Reno was lining his Carolina Skiff up to a trailer on the north side of Bird Creek boat ramp at the end of CR 40 in Inglis. Since his parents lived in Inglis, Reno has visited from Crystal River and used the ramp for more than 20 years. He knows the structure’s shortcomings. “That big hole right out there,” Reno said about the ramp. “Everybody I know has started using the left side.” But it’s the changing tides outgoing or incoming that Reno says are the biggest challenge. “You have to pick the side you want,” he said. “If you’re over there, it’s going to push you onto the concrete. You don’t have any barriers other than that pole.”

    Reno was out testing a boat that he had done some work on. He’s a welder by trade at the local power plant, but gets out of the water when he can. “It’s easy going out, but the split current and tide change makes it challenging on the way in.”

  • Levy school district driving force behind proposed accommodations bill

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Florida Senator Bill Montford filed a proposed bill on Jan. 16 that will address student accommodations when taking Florida Standards Assessments (FSA).

    According to Levy County Superintendent of Schools Jeffery R. Edison, students currently cannot utilize accommodations such as graphic organizers on the exams, even though they are allowed to use them in the classroom.

    The proposed bill known as SB 348: Exceptional Student Education State Assessment Accommodation Task Force was proposed by Levy County School District with a goal of “establishing the Exceptional Student Education State Assessment Accommodation Task Force within the Department of Education for the purpose of making recommendations on school accommodations for exceptional students.”

    “The goal is, we have children that are allowed to have certain accommodations in the classroom but on the FSA test, many of those accommodations are not allowed,” said Edison.

  • Fighting fire with fire

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    You can hear the blades spinning in the distance. Florida Forest Service crew members are hoping that the helicopter on its way from Withlacoochee to the Goethe State Forest headquarters will be a big one.

    “Hear the bird?” one firefighter yells out. “Sounds like the Huey!”

    Within 10 minutes, a Bell UH-1H, aka “the Huey,” with the No. 24 on its nose, comes into view, makes a smooth landing and is greeted by Incident Commander Jerry Horton.

    Everyone’s happy to have the Huey because of the extra room. Not only will the copter carry veteran Rotary Craft Firefighter Pilot Keith Fender and a spotter but also an Aerial Ignition Dispenser that will be operated by Forest Ranger Robert Dorminey, plus thousands of plastic balls that will ignite thousands of acres. The Jan. 10 prescribed burn is officially known as the 2019 Daniels Island Aerial Burn.

    Two hours before the Huey landed, about 40 Florida Fire Service crew gathered for a morning briefing and went over the incident action plan.

  • County in final stages of permanent School Resource Deputy placement

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Cedar Key High School Principal Kathy Lawrence says she is looking forward to the permanent placement of School Resource Deputy Julie Gironda at the home of the Sharks on Jan. 9.

    Gironda has been part of the rotating coverage of CKS since March 2018 with other Levy County Sheriff Office deputies who have been working overtime on their days off from patrol or other assignments. “It will be good for the students build a relationship with a permanent SRD,” Lawrence said.

    In the 10 months that have passed since the Florida Senate Bill 7026, also known as The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, was signed and put in place, the Levy County School Board along with the Board of County Commissioners and the LCSO have pooled resources to make sure that every school in the County has had a deputy in place.

  • Cedar Key man charged with first degree murder over neighbor death

    An argument between neighbors turned deadly for a Cedar Key man.

    According to the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, Cedar Key resident Matthew Whyte, 27, was arrested for first degree murder after he struck his neighbor, Thomas Rafferty, 55, twice with a board and drown him near the edge of a Cedar Key shoreline the night of Dec. 30.

    Whyte was under the influence of methamphetamines, according to the report.

    Earlier in the day, Whyte and Rafferty, Whyte’s roommate and another neighbor and acquaintance of the men, identified as the eyewitness to the deadly incident, were all hanging out together and having drinks at 3011 D Street (State Road 24). The witness reported having an argument with Whyte’s roommate which was broken up by Whyte. The suspect left the house for several hours and returned to find the victim encouraging the eyewitness to fight Whyte’s roommate, according to the report.

  • County to authorize waste service franchises, establish licensing procedure for haulers

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    The Board of County Commissioners took steps on Dec. 18 toward controlling the flow of solid waste in Levy County and regulating the collection service system.

    Levy County Solid Waste Department Administrative Director Rod Hastings presented ordinance 2018-009, which will allow the County to require all solid waste haulers to obtain a license.

    Hastings said he fields complaints from residents about rural haulers on a regular basis with reports of leaking haulers and garbage in the roads. “I have a lot of individuals call up and complain about debris just getting blown out onto the road and I have no control over that,” he said but added that a licensing procedure would change that.

    “What this does, is it increases that control and it does help us. There’s identification that’s going to be put on the vehicles,” Hastings said. “There’re certain criteria that they have to maintain. That gives us the ability to make sure that it is being perceived not as an option, but mandatory.”

  • Levy County school bus driver handbook up to speed

    Suzette Cook, Reporter

    Levy County school buses will now be running at posted speed limits instead of being restricted to 55 MPH on non-interstate highways and 65 MPH on interstate highways.

    The School Board of Levy County adopted a revised 2018-2019 Bus Drivers Handbook at the Dec. 11 meeting that addressed the speed limit changes, specific student behavior and rules, and engine idling restrictions.

    “There’s no documentation that it’s unsafe to go posted speed,” said Director of Transportation Gary Masters who took over the department in July.

    “Furthermore, we did a survey of the districts in the State to find out, and 87 percent of the districts in the State go posted speed. So we are just following the law.”

    The 55 MPH school bus limitation law known as Florida Statute 316.183 was removed on Jan. 1, 2013 but some districts such as Levy County opted to retain the limitations.

  • Ribbon cutting on the reef

    The University of Florida and project construction and engineering crew members gathered on Dec. 10 for a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly restored Lone Cabbage Oyster Reef in Cedar Key. Boats carrying guests and media members, including a national correspondent for NPR, launched at low tide from the Shell Mound Boat Ramp.

    According to UF experts, oyster reefs help increase coastal resilience in the face of climate change and sea level rise, but are disappearing. Over the past 30 years, 88 percent of large offshore oyster reefs have degraded or disappeared entirely. Dr. Peter Frederick and Dr. Bill Pine of UF’s Wildlife and Ecology Conservation Department, along with Leslie Sturmer in Extension are the team of scientists who coordinated the 3-mile-long project. The project was funded by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, without state or federal tax dollars, through the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. For more info on the project visit: www.wec.ufl.edu/oysterproject/