Friday, January 19, 2018
Education

Pasco officials surprised by surge in school enrollment

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school district officials have been caught off guard by rapidly rising student enrollment in the first two weeks of classes.

Attendance was 63,421 on Friday, up 1,381 students from the 10th day of classes a year earlier. State projections had the district student count dropping by about 500.

"The exception is a school that is not at its capacity," superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board on Tuesday. "We have elementary schools with just as many kids in portables as in permanent classrooms."

The growth is most prominent in the Wiregrass Ranch area, with the Oakstead zone not far behind. But schools in other areas are experiencing big gains, as well. Those include Chasco and Cotee River elementary schools, both up by more than 100 students from a year ago; Seven Springs Middle, up 116; and Hudson and Wesley Chapel high schools, both up almost 200.

Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, a real estate agent, said she expected the gains to continue, as new home construction and sales are seeing "nothing but growth."

This rapid jump, after a few years of relatively stagnant student population, has put the district in a vexing position.

"It's a challenge for us," Browning said. "The Penny (for Pasco sales tax) renewal that occurred last year is all dedicated to remodeling. So we have our backs against the wall, because we have some areas that we know we are going to have to build some schools."

The district is working on how to handle the crowded schools, with a goal of getting as close as possible to meeting the state class size law. At the same time, Browning said, the administration is looking for longer-term solutions.

Said Browning, "We are looking at a number of things."

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