Thursday, April 26, 2018
Education

Pasco school officials consider accelerated construction plan to cope with crowding

LAND O'LAKES — Five to 10 new students registered to attend Connerton Elementary School almost every day during summer break.

Even after school began, new kids kept coming.

The school, built for 762 students, opened this fall with 883. Four weeks later, its enrollment had boomed to 959. One recent Wednesday, Connerton added its ninth and tenth kindergarten classes. The next day, another first-grade teacher joined the staff.

"At the beginning of the year, we knew our numbers were large and we knew they were probably going to continue to grow," principal Aimee Boltze said. "We see the growth. We feel it right here."

Connerton is hardly alone in feeling the pinch. Oakstead Elementary, John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High have continued to surpass enrollment projections, too, becoming so crowded that Pasco district officials are now talking about accelerating new construction plans to ease the load.

"We are looking at the possibility of building a new high school and a new elementary school in the next two to three years," assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said.

The recently approved Penny for Pasco extension does not include money for new schools. The School Board can sell bonds against future sales tax revenue, though, while reconsidering priorities for other available funds.

"We are looking at all revenue sources and trying to figure out what we can do get ahead," Gadd said.

He is bringing a $115 million bond proposal to the School Board on Tuesday. It includes an amount for partial funding of a new elementary school in Wiregrass Ranch.

In addition, a team has already begun preparing designs to rebuild Sanders Elementary School, which was closed and razed as Connerton opened in 2010. Officials are planning Sanders as a K-5 magnet school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.

The project, which already has money allocated, would pull about 300 students from Connerton and Oakstead, with the rest of the seats to be allocated through choice, Gadd said. Oakstead, also built for 762 students, debuted in 2006 with 688 students. It started the new year with 1,078 in attendance and had grown to 1,139 four weeks later.

That's bigger than nine of the county's 15 middle schools.

Wiregrass Ranch High continues to be the district's largest high school, even after a recent rezoning to pull hundreds of students out of its zone. Built for 1,675 students, the school started the year at 2,090 and had increased to 2,171 by the 20th day of classes.

"I think all we're going to do is continue to grow," principal Robyn White said, noting the rise of new development in the area, along with increasing sales of foreclosed homes in the Meadow Pointe subdivision.

Neighboring John Long Middle, which feeds Wiregrass Ranch, has 569 eighth graders, too, compared to the high school's graduating class of 471.

The high school began classes with nine teachers without classrooms. It now has 11.

After seven weeks of scheduling and rescheduling, the administration finally was able to meet class size requirements recently.

"Everybody is working hard every single day," White said. "We feel the load."

Plans for a new high school on Old Pasco Road would alleviate crowding at Wiregrass Ranch and also could provide relief for Zephyrhills High, which is well above its 1,300-student capacity at its enrollment of 1,521. To start, it is being looked at as a middle-high school that would also alleviate Long Middle.

Other projects being pushed up include renovations of Cox, Pasco and Anclote elementary schools, Bayonet Point Middle School and Marchman Technical Education Center, which Gadd said is being looked at for conversion to a full high school with an emphasis on technical training programs.

School Board members said they had limited information about the administration's ideas regarding construction or funding and withheld comment until they get more details.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

 
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