Pasco school rezoning hearings expected to last one hour each
The Pasco County School Board is expecting to set aside three hours on Dec. 20 to hear parents and other residents talk about school boundary revisions before casting its initial vote on the proposals.
"My recommendation is, we're going to allow an hour for each one of them," chairman Allen Altman said. "At the end of each one, we will vote on that one and move on to the next one."
Usually, the board grants each speaker three minutes for comments. If many more people sign up than the time would allow, Altman said, he will ask the board if it wants to shorten that three minutes to fit more speakers into the hour.
He said he had consulted with board attorney Dennis Alfonso to ensure this plan meets Florida law on public meetings and input. Statute makes clear that the public shall have a "reasonable opportunity" to be heard on matters coming before a board, and that the board may set guidelines for input including a "specified period of time."
"We are potentially tripling the amount of time for public comment," Altman said, noting the board regularly schedules an hour for speakers.
Since August, when news first emerged about the rezoning plans for middle and high schools in both southwest and east Pasco, parents have filled the board room to speak for or against possible shifts. They've often gone well past an hour of talking, sharing individual, personal stories as well as broader concerns over issues such as traffic safety and travel time.
Opinions have been varied, and often at odds. Accusations of intimidation, lies and bullying have surfaced within the communities that want different outcomes.
After superintendent Kurt Browning announced last week that he would consider all the pertinent facts before making his recommendations to the board, residents flooded the email in-boxes of the superintendent and board with their data and opinions, aiming to further influence the outcome.
"At this point, we're received hundreds of emails," board member Alison Crumbley said. "I can't even respond to them all anymore, because they're coming at such a rapid pace."
Crumbley said she would be looking for a plan that eases crowding at the over-capacity schools, fills vacant spaces at campuses that have seats available, and affects as few families as possible -- an admittedly tall order.
Browning's recommendations for the middle and high school zones, as well as an elementary boundary change for the Odessa area, are due as early as Tuesday. The board's final vote is scheduled for Jan. 17.