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As Pasco grows, enrollment at charter schools expected to rise

Population growth and the crowding at traditional schools look to be driving up interest in Pasco County's charter schools for the coming year.

School district planners are projecting a 23 percent increase in charter enrollment in the fall, from 3,930 students to 4,835. That's with only one new charter school opening with a cap of 250 students.

Charters anticipating the biggest growth are Plato Academy at Trinity (+228) and Classical Preparatory School (+127). And there's room for more. The 11 charters in the county have a combined contractual enrollment capacity of 6,142.

The increase comes at the same time that the Pasco School District is opening two new schools, Bexley Elementary in Odessa and Cypress Creek Middle-High in Wesley Chapel. Those schools are designed to ease, but not resolve, crowding at nearby existing campuses.

Some families are choosing the charter options instead. District leaders have said they want to attract more children back to the traditional campuses and have launched new magnet programs toward that end.

But they don't sound surprised by the lure of the charters, which actually help relieve crowding at current schools. (Even the district's School Board agenda attachment showing the latest numbers has on its tab, "Are you surprised?")

"We want to keep them in our traditional schools," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "But for some families and some kids, charter schools meet their needs better."

TEXTBOOK ADOPTION: It's time for Florida schools to adopt updated social studies materials, and the effort has drawn its share of controversy.

In Collier County, for instance, some parents and other residents have complained that some the state-approved books place too much emphasis on Islam, for instance, or overly glorified Eleanor Roosevelt.

There had been some whispers of similar criticisms in Pasco County. But when the district held its community review of books on Monday, vendors spent the vast majority of the time talking among themselves.

Six people told the district of their interest in reviewing the proposed materials and making comments. But just one, county Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley, made his way to the session.

That doesn't mean that the time is up for anyone seeking to look at the texts and submit their views. The district Office of Teaching and Learning is preparing a website with all of the information and will receive feedback in written form.

The School Board is set to have a hearing on the adoption on May 2, with formal approval scheduled tentatively for June 9. Call (813) 794-2459 for details.

ATTENDANCE ZONES: Fighting a challenge to the School Board's recently adopted attendance maps did not come without its costs, and some of those could be passed to county taxpayers.

The district received bills totaling $6,013.12 for Judge D.R. Alexander's time and travel to hear the cases, one for the west side and one for the east side.

Chief finance officer Olga Swinson said she expected the district to fully cover the expenses, and not pass along the charge. Before paying, though, she sought board attorney Dennis Alfonso's advice.

In an emailed response, Alfonso said it would be difficult to seek payment from the plaintiffs, as a practical matter.

"As a general proposition," Alfonso wrote, "an agency is responsible for the costs associated with the successful defense of challenge, unless it can demonstrate that the challenging party participated in the proceedings for an improper purpose or that the party or the party's attorney knew or should have known that a claim was not supported by the material facts necessary to establish the claim or would not be supported by the application of then-existing law to those material facts."

He suggested further conversation with the administration.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

As Pasco grows, enrollment at charter schools expected to rise 04/18/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 5:16pm]
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