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Pasco considers school zone changes to ease crowding

WESLEY CHAPEL — Hundreds of central and east Pasco public school students could find themselves reassigned to new schools for 2011-12 as crowding persists in those parts of the county.

District officials have targeted John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High in the Meadow Pointe subdivision of Wesley Chapel, as well as Woodland Elementary in Zephyrhills, as most in need of attendance zone changes to deal with immediate capacity concerns.

Seven Oaks Elementary and Sand Pine Elementary also face severe crowding. But their situations are actually improved from past years, so they are not likely to get attention in the short term.

"It's a never-ending puzzle," district planning director Chris Williams said.

Over the past several years, the school district has reassigned students as it opened dozens of new schools. That's happening again in the fall, as Fivay High and Odessa and Connerton elementary schools debut, taking children from stuffed nearby schools such as Hudson High and Longleaf Elementary.

But no new schools are planned after these three. And still, Long Middle, Wiregrass Ranch, Woodland and a few other existing ones remain crowded.

The district has enough seats across the county to serve every student.

"Unfortunately, those seats aren't always available where you need them," Williams said.

That's why a rezoning committee is expected to gather in September to begin drawing new maps again.

The scenarios are likely to shape up like this:

• Wiregrass Ranch, at about 385 students above capacity, could send students to Sunlake High (147 open seats) and Wesley Chapel High (134 open seats).

• Long Middle, at about 465 students above capacity, could send students to Pine View Middle (304 open seats) and Stewart Middle (150 open seats). Long also might shift students to Weightman Middle, which would have to move students into Pasco Middle in order to create some space.

• Woodland Elementary, at about 243 students over capacity, could send students to West Zephyrhills Elementary (103 open seats).

The crowding wouldn't be completely resolved, Williams said. "But we can at least get a few kids out of there."

School Board members said the district needs to keep its attendance zones fluid in order to achieve maximum efficiency of the school space it has.

"If you're not building a new school and you still have capacity issues, you start looking at adjacent boundaries," vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. "I anticipate we will be doing this."

The outcome of a November referendum on the class size amendment will drive just how the boundaries might change, chairman Allen Altman said.

State lawmakers have asked voters to reconsider the 2002 amendment, which mandates that all core curriculum classes not exceed set numbers of students beginning in the fall. If approved, the new referendum would allow districts to achieve those maximum levels as school averages, as they have been calculated to this point.

"If the voters do not amend class size to where we can utilize our facilities as we currently do for a school by school average, and we have to do to a class by class (count), it's going to impact the school choice that many parents have become used to and it's going to force the district to maximize the absolute utilization of all our facilities," Altman said.

He suggested that the ability of families to use choice to get into schools outside their attendance zones could be severely curtailed as well.

Altman stressed that no decisions have been made. But he said every effort to efficiently use student seats will be explored in the coming year.

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.

Pasco considers school zone changes to ease crowding 06/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 8:47pm]

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