Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pasco rezoning workshop turns out small but passionate crowd

About 100 Pasco County parents turned out Monday evening to voice their concerns about a proposal that would reassign their children to different middle and high schools.

Many left dissatisfied.

"I feel like we're definitely being pushed aside," said Robert Willson, whose two daughters would be zoned into Paul R. Smith Middle and Anclote High under the move. "This is to check something off their list that they're supposed to do."

Willson and many of his neighbors asked pointed questions of district officials, wanting to know exact numbers of students being moved and how they would affect enrollment demographics, among other things.

Some worried that all the diversity would be removed from Seven Springs Middle and Mitchell High, creating a more densely low-income population at Anclote and Paul R. Smith.

The parents also wanted to know why their neighborhoods, which have been in existence since before Mitchell even opened, were being cast out of that school while new neighborhoods that have yet to be built would get to remain in Mitchell. Several also demanded that the district verify the addresses of students in each school, to make sure they aren't lying to get in.

The arguments were not new. They arose during the district's 2016 rezoning effort, when a proposal that didn't make it to the board called for moving some of the same neighborhoods. District officials said they need to fill seats in under-used schools such as Anclote High, and ease crowding in over-capacity campuses.

Kari Dubeau, whose son is entering eighth grade in the fall, was among many who said they did not want their children going to school in neighborhoods they chose not to live in. She and others said they felt like district officials gave "canned responses" and then stopped listening.

School Board members attending the workshop, where residents could review maps, ask questions and submit written comments, said they saw some administrators grow defensive and stop engaging with the people who had concerns. At the same time, they also saw some in attendance get antagonistic even while offering to help the district devise a solution to its crowding issues.

One parent group has already made clear its intent to challenge the district process, contending it does not meet state rule-making laws. Parent Jim Stanley, who successfully sued over the 2017 west-side rezoning, attended Monday's session and told leaders the community has a slate of volunteers "ready, willing and able" to help find answers that make sense.

Planning director Chris Williams said he will take the input received from the workshop and present it to superintendent Kurt Browning, who can decide if he wants to adjust the proposed maps.

The board has scheduled an April 10 public hearing on the maps, with a vote planned for May 1.

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