DADE CITY — Rampant rumors over the possible closing of a historic school drew city commissioners into a special meeting Monday, where they quickly agreed on a resolution urging the Pasco County School District to keep Moore Mickens Education Center open.
"We don't have any authority here," said Mayor Camille Hernandez, addressing a standing room-only crowd. "But we do have a voice."
Hernandez and other commissioners have been hearing from worried residents since late last week, when word spread of the school's possible demise.
"I've had a lot of calls," said Commissioner Jim Shive. "Shutting this facility down will have a tremendous impact; it's a lifeline for many in the community."
Close to 50 people came to the meeting; some shared their personal histories involving the school, others spoke of the difference it makes in the lives of youths and adults.
Commissioner Eunice Penix, a retired teacher and lifelong resident, urged those attending to sign a petition to keep Moore Mickens up and running.
"Nobody is assigned to Moore Mickens," said Bernice Mathis, a retired school administrator and advisory board member for the school. "They come here because they are not successful at the high school. We need to stand and fight for Moore Mickens."
Margarita Romo, founder of Farmworker's Self Help in Dade City and a recent inductee into the state's Civil Rights Hall of Fame, pledged her group's assistance in pressuring the school district to keep the school open.
"We've sent many of our people to Moore Mickens to get their GED," said Romo. "My community is here to fight with you."
The resolution will ask the board to continue investing in the school, which commissioners view as a valuable resource in the city and one of historical significance.
It was built in the 1930s as the county's first permanent school for black students and since 1987 has operated as an education center. It offers classes for pregnant students and those with young children; students with learning disabilities and other special needs; and adult education and vocational training.
Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning, a longtime Dade City resident, has said he will hold a public meeting soon to dispel rumors, explain the district's ideas for the school and to listen to feedback.
Browning said there are no plans to tear down Moore Mickens — one of the rumors he has heard — but there are discussions about possibly moving programs to other campuses to better serve students.
Officials have pointed to rising maintenance costs and safety concerns with increasing train runs on nearby tracks as other reasons for considering closure.
Commissioner Bill Dennis complimented residents for their comments and advised them to speak out to those who can influence a decision on the issue.
"If you don't take these same presentations to the school board, it's for naught," said Dennis.
District staff plans to discuss ideas for Moore Mickens at the school board's meeting today.
Hernandez said she plans to be there to present the city's resolution.