Thursday, November 22, 2018

Pasco school district changes school rezoning system

A prolonged legal battle with some dissatisfied parents has prompted the Pasco County school district to revamp its process for redrawing school attendance boundaries.

Parents will still have opportunities to speak their mind on any proposals coming to the School Board. But advisory committees comprised of parents and principals, which the district had used for several years, will no longer be part of the streamlined model.

Instead, the system will begin with district planners preparing maps for the superintendent's consideration. Once a set of zones are settled upon, the district would conduct a public hearing where residents can come and view the maps, speak with officials about issues such as busing and programs, and submit written comments.

The proposal also would appear online, where anyone could look at it and also send in thoughts and opinions.

"The superintendent and board will get all of that feedback … all in one place," assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn said.

She noted that in the most recent rezonings, not all officials received the same emails, calls and other forms of input.

After the public hearing, the superintendent will review the comments and make any changes before sending a formal proposal to the board.

"Once I make my recommendation to the board, I'll use the term 'locked down,'" superintendent Kurt Browning said.

The district then will publish notice of a public meeting where the board will take testimony on the official proposal.

"If it needs to be all day, it will be all day," Browning said. "If there's 500 people who want to talk, we're going to sit there and listen to the public."

The board would vote at its next scheduled meeting. It could either approve the superintendent's plan, or vote it down and call for changes. If the board rejects the boundaries, the staff would have to make a new recommendation and the board would have a new set of hearings.

Browning explained that the new model emerged out of an abundance of caution, to ensure the district fully follows the state's administrative procedures laws. The parents who challenged the most recent rezoning efforts accused the board of not adhering to all the rules — something an administrative law judge refuted, but which remains on appeal.

"Unfortunately, it has caused us to rethink the way we rezone to a more structured process dictated in large part by Chapter 120," Browning said.

District leaders anticipate putting this new model into practice if the School Board approves converting Ridgewood High into a magnet technical school. Kuhn said planners already are working on preliminary maps, just in case.

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