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Pasco to look at rezoning east county schools

WESLEY CHAPEL — John Long Middle School is bursting at the seams.

The school has nearly 1,800 students enrolled for buildings meant to hold just over 1,300. It has about two dozen portable classrooms out back, and a handful of "floating" teachers who have no classroom of their own. The campus has no room to grow.

Next door, Wiregrass Ranch High School can just about match that.

The high school has almost 400 more students enrolled than its 1,675 permanent seats, and it has 17 portables in a field.

And despite Pasco County's overall decline in students, these two schools continue to receive new families. Yet nearby Pine View and Stewart Middle schools, and Wesley Chapel High, have hundreds of available seats.

School district officials are preparing to even things out.

"We're looking at rezoning over there," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Wednesday. "We'll be doing the whole east side, from U.S. 41 on."

A committee is forming, with a meeting schedule in the works to begin later in September or early in October.

The issue takes on critical importance as the district has no new schools planned for the next few years, and it still must meet the mandate to keep class sizes low. The Pasco School Board has shown no interest in following other nearby districts in closing schools to new registrations, preferring to use attendance boundary changes to shift students.

Fiorentino stressed that the district does not want to move children frequently. So the plans will take into account where students currently live as well as where construction of new homes is planned and under way.

That means some schools that appear under capacity, such as Watergrass Elementary, might not see big changes in their zones because an influx of new students is projected when the economy improves. Some development already is beginning there.

Major rezoning there "would cause future problems," Fiorentino said.

School Board chairman Allen Altman said the idea of setting new boundaries for the east side schools has been discussed off and on for more than a year. He did not want to see any moves impact students at schools that are undergoing major renovations, such as Pasco Middle.

Adding too many students to that campus, which is well below its capacity, could cause stresses while that work remains, he said.

But the conversation must take place, Altman continued, because the district should not rule out any way to meet class size without spending more on new buildings.

"I know we're going to talk about this," he said.

The School Board recently revised the attendance zones for most middle and high schools west of U.S. 41.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

By the numbers

1,800 Approximate number of students enrolled at John Long Middle School.

1,300 Approximate number of students John Long Middle was designed to hold.

2,075 Approximate number of students enrolled at Wiregrass Ranch High School.

1,675 Number of permanent seats at Wiregrass Ranch High.

17 Number of portable units at Wiregrass.

Pasco to look at rezoning east county schools 09/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 5:20pm]
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