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Although some Pasco schools have fewer students, others are nearly overwhelmed

ODESSA — Even as enrollment in Pasco schools falls short of projections, some schools continue to see soaring growth and the crowding that comes with it.

Wesley Chapel Elementary has served as the poster child for years in this regard, but Oakstead Elementary is now challenging for that spot. With an average daily attendance of 1,115 students, Oakstead has become the county's most populated elementary, and it has the 22 portables out back to prove it.

Unlike Wesley Chapel, though, Oakstead has no promise of relief in sight.

But district officials are working on it.

On Friday, assistant superintendent Ray Gadd told his property acquisition manager to send off a purchase proposal to the Dioceses of St. Petersburg for 20 acres on Community Drive, just off State Road 54 behind the Trinity Memorial Gardens cemetery. District and diocese officials have been talking about a land deal there for several weeks.

"I think we're in sync," Gadd said. "I think they're wanting to negotiate."

Steve Zientek, planning manager for the diocese, was out of town and not available for comment.

If the district can work out a deal, it hopes to begin construction on a new elementary school that would ease crowding at Oakstead, which stands at 146 percent of capacity with expectations it will reach 170 percent of capacity by the time classes end in June. The new school also would take students from Longleaf Elementary, which currently is at 134 percent of its permanent capacity.

Gadd said he'd like to see a school open at the site by August 2010, though some on his staff have told him such a goal might be too ambitious.

"I don't know if it's possible," Gadd said. "But that's what I would be trying to do."

If enrollment remains steady, rather than skyrocketing again, the system's remaining planned construction projects could bring Pasco schools closer to their intended sizes than at any time in recent memory. The plan includes new elementary schools in Connerton and the Watergrass subdivision of Wesley Chapel, and new high schools in Hudson and Holiday.

A school in Odessa would represent the final critical piece.

Pasco's average daily enrollment, as of the 20th day of classes, was 64,858 — about 100 more than last year at the same time but also below projections for this year. The shortfall could cost the district about $4-million in funding.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Although some Pasco schools have fewer students, others are nearly overwhelmed 09/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 20, 2008 11:11pm]
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