Pasco parents concerned about special education plan

Published February 6 2018
Updated February 7 2018

Hoping that consolidation can lead to better services and outcomes, the Pasco County school district has decided to relocate certain special education programs for the 2018-19 academic year.

The district’s Access and Social Behavior programs, currently spread among several campuses, are slated to be funneled into different schools based on new feeder patterns.

Officials said they anticipate seeing a positive impact from the changes, but also understood that such a move could prove stressful to students — particularly because they serve children with special needs, who often perform better when settled into known routines.

They sent letters to parents informing them of the plans in late January.

The responses came swiftly. And the emails to the district offices were not positive.

"There are no facts and figures on how this move is to benefit them," one parent wrote.

"I’m sure you can understand my surprise and, most importantly, my concern on how this will impact my daughter, not only academically, but socially and emotionally as well," wrote another, who vowed to fight the change.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the administration is listening to the parents concerns.

New contract terms supported

Pasco County teachers and school-related personnel overwhelmingly supported new contract terms for the current academic year.

A majority of workers participated in the Jan. 30 balloting, according to the United School Employees of Pasco, with 87 percent of teachers voting for their deal and 98 percent of school-related personnel backing theirs.

The agreements offer all employees small raises, as well as continued fully paid health insurance. They also include performance bonuses for eligible teachers, including those who were not included in the state’s Best and Brightest program definition.

The district had begun processing the raises in anticipation of approval.

The School Board voted on the terms Tuesday. The added pay is expected to be distributed before the end of the month.

"We want to thank the dedication of the union and district bargaining teams for reaching this agreement in the midst of a bleak economic year," USEP President Don Peace said in a statement to all employees.

With the approval of the negotiated contracts, the board also took steps to get raises to administrators and other employees not represented by a union. It set aside $824,670 to cover the added expense, in addition to $10.2 million for the negotiated raises.

More school board candidates file

The candidate field for Pasco County School Board continues to grow.

The latest candidate to announce plans to replace retiring District 5 board member Steve Luikart is Megan Harding, a third-grade teacher at Fox Hollow Elementary School.

Harding, 27, is the second district teacher to seek the seat. Hudson Middle teacher Michael Aday also has pre-filed paperwork to run, along with law student Kassie Hutchinson and lawyer Tara O’Connor.

Harding attended the University of South Florida and lives in Port Richey. She has worked in the school system since 2016.

West-side activist Heide Janshon, meanwhile, has declared her campaign to unseat District 3 incumbent Cynthia Armstrong, who is seeking a third term.

Janshon, who has two children in the system, has been a substitute teacher for the past two years. She has been vocal on issues including school boundary rezoning, testing opt-out and Common Core standards.

"I don’t desire this position so my voice can be heard," Janshon said. "I desire this position so more voices can be heard. The public doesn’t get a fair shake."

She suggested that some board members don’t listen to parents or residents on important issues.

"A School Board member should be listening to the people." said Janshon, who moved to the county in 2004.

Political newcomer Meghan Hamer also is an announced District 3 candidate.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.