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Year in review: Pasco school boundary fights prompt new process

By Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times Staff
Published: December 27, 2017 Updated: December 27, 2017 at 12:11 PM
An advisory committee recommended new attendance boundaries for west Pasco County middle and high schools in November 2016. A group of parents has been fighting the proposal ever since.

The story of Pasco County’s fight over school attendance boundaries has gone on for more than one calendar year.

Parents living in the Trinity area first got wind in August 2016 that the school district might reassign their children out of the popular, but crowded Mitchell High, and into a less desirable high school. The goal was to balance enrollments between over- and under-capacity schools.

The School Board approved the changes in January 2017. A group of people who didn’t get their way has fought back ever since.

They challenged the process through administrative law judge hearings — the judge sided with the district, and the parents have appealed — and accused some rezoning advisory committee members of conducting public business in private. That lawsuit was heard in county court in December.

Some east-county parents challenged the board’s new maps for Wesley Chapel area high schools, too. They did not take their battle quite as far, though.

The east-side issues involved the opening of a new school, Cypress Creek Middle-High. Some concerns were mitigated after parents saw the campus and generally were satisfied.

Much of the angst boiled down to parents and students not wanting to switch high schools in the middle of their four years, particularly since they weren’t getting a new school. They suggested that communities other than their own should be reassigned, and pointed fingers at neighbors and officials for trying to use undue influence.

Only one side could win, though. The other looked for ways to get the maps overturned.

So far, they haven’t succeeded.

District officials held that they did everything by the book procedurally. And administrative law judge D.R. Alexander sided with the district.

The parents have appealed.

They also asked a county judge to throw out the zones on the grounds that some of the proceedings took place out of public view.

Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd refused to issue an injunction against the district in August, just days before classes were to begin.

She also declined to toss out parents’ case, as the district requested in late November.

She now plans to issue a ruling in the first few weeks of 2018.

Meanwhile, the district has taken steps to avoid future challenges like these.

Superintendent Kurt Browning had his staff create a more streamlined process for rezoning — one that no longer includes an advisory committee with parents, like the one that was accused of open meeting violations.

Instead, the planning staff will draft new boundaries and take them to a workshop where residents can ask questions and submit written comments.

The staff will review that feedback and can make adjustments before sending the map to the superintendent.

The superintendent can further amend the boundaries before making a recommendation to the School Board.

The board then will have one public hearing — not two as in the past — to vote on the zones at one of its next scheduled meetings.

That model already is in use for the planned conversion of Ridgewood High to a magnet technical high school.

Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer

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