LAND O'LAKES — Pasco school district leaders have made no secret of their desire to create a technical education center to serve the east side of the county.
They're not too keen, though, on a proposal coming from Pasco-Hernando Community College.
College president Katherine Johnson had looked for district support for a $16 million, 36,000-square-foot workforce training center at PHCC's east campus in Blanton. She was preparing to pitch the idea to House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican, in advance of the spring legislative session.
After initially having his staff collaborate on the concept, superintendent Kurt Browning had second thoughts.
"I cannot in good conscience support the construction of an east Pasco technical education center northwest of Dade City," said Browning, who lives in the area. "It's not going to be really easy to get to from Zephyrhills and southeast Pasco."
A different location, perhaps on district-owned property at Handcart Road, would better suit residents' needs, he suggested. Any new facility should serve "the entire east Pasco community," Browning said.
So he let Johnson know in an e-mail that the district won't be joining forces with the college.
"We are just not able to devote the time and energy to this proposed project," Browning wrote.
His move comes on the heels of a lengthy dispute with the college over fees the district must pay for high school students taking college credit-bearing courses. It also coincides with the district's consideration of joining forces with the Sheriff's Office to take over deputy training from the college, amid Sheriff Chris Nocco's criticism of the PHCC law enforcement academy.
Johnson told Browning via e-mail that she was "surprised and disappointed that you are not willing to allow Pasco County Schools to be a partner in this joint-use legislative proposal."
She added that a position paper is ready for district officials to review before submission to Weatherford, if Browning changes his mind.
Weatherford said he challenges government and agency leaders every year to come up with ideas that might benefit Pasco County. But the speaker stressed that he never gave any direction that the college and school district should work together on this or any other project.
"I never told them this is what I want to see," Weatherford said.
If an idea for an east Pasco technical education center does come forward, from the college, district or both, he said he will see if it's something that can get into the state budget.
"I can't guarantee it," said Weatherford, who's in his final term of office. "But I always ask for ideas."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.