So far, so good on redrawing school boundaries

Setting new school boundaries generally has been a low-key affair in Pasco County, and the current round is proving no exception.

Next year, though, officials say things might not go so smoothly as they take a wider look at attendance zones to balance enrollment in huge sections of the county.

"We're going to look at the boundaries for all of the west side middle and high schools" in preparation for opening what's expected to be the last new high school in that region for several years, planning director Chris Williams said.

Several mid-county elementary schools also could see student shifts for 2010 as the district draws maps for two new ones slated to open that year.

"I'm actually already getting calls from folks in the Oakstead (Elementary) boundary who are concerned about being rezoned," Williams said.

This year, committees have prepared attendance zones for Anclote High in Holiday and Watergrass Elementary in Wesley Chapel with little rancor or complaint. When neighborhood groups have raised concerns about traffic, driving distance and such, the committees have handled matters to most everyone's ultimate understanding, if not acceptance.

The district's planning office has received just a handful of calls and e-mails, considering the moves involve the transfer of more than 1,500 children. School Board members said they've not heard from anyone about the proposals that are headed for board consideration in February after parent meetings this week and next.

"Parents that serve on the committees have been our greatest asset," board member Allen Altman said. "They put self-interest behind the best interest of the county ... and have been the driving force behind why our boundary changes have gone so well."

That's not to say that boundary changes don't rattle some chains.

The Oak Ridge subdivision of New Port Richey organized to protest the possible transfer of its teens from Mitchell High to Anclote High.

"Oak Ridge was one of the first communities in the area to attend J.W. Mitchell," parent Lisa Gallagher wrote in one of about a dozen community e-mails to the district. "The children that do live in the community are volunteers and employees of local Trinity businesses. . . . They are small in numbers and I do not feel this unique community will impact the zoning and they should stay where they are."

The worries grew silent as the committee decided to recommend against moving Oak Ridge — at least for this year. It could get caught up in the wider changes planned for next year's rezoning.

The general reaction to the new boundary, which would move all students who attended Paul R. Smith Middle to Anclote High, has been positive because most students and parents look forward to having a neighborhood school, Mitchell principal Ric Mellin said.

Gulf High had similar reaction, principal Steve Knobl said.

Mitchell will lose about 700 students, reducing its enrollment to closer to 1,800. Gulf High will send about 300 students to Anclote, shrinking its population to around 1,400.

Over in Wesley Chapel, the feedback has been even quieter.

The district has tried to relieve crowding at Wesley Chapel Elementary practically since it opened in 2002. At its peak, the school enrolled about 1,500 children. Even with the opening of three nearby schools — Seven Oaks, Double Branch and New River — the school has continued to use 32 portables today as its numbers kept shooting up.

Watergrass is expected to take about half of Wesley Chapel's 1,000 students. With development subsiding, "it seems like this will be the school that really gets us down to size," assistant principal Jeff McLean said.

Knowing that, few parents have complained about the proposal to move their kids to Watergrass, McLean said.

All bets are off when the district looks to rezone all of the middle and high schools west of the Suncoast Parkway while also looking at the boundaries for Lake Myrtle, Trinity, Sanders, Longleaf and Oakstead elementary schools.

The more people that rezoning touches, the more chances that arise for gripes, Altman noted.

Williams said he hoped to keep families as satisfied as possible.

"I'm very conscious of the fact that when we redraw boundaries, it impacts families," he said. But "it's one of the necessary evils that must be done."

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.

If you go

One more chance to discuss school zones

The district will have one more round of parent meetings to discuss the proposed school boundaries before bringing them to the School Board for approval. The meetings are scheduled for:

Watergrass Elementary, 6:30 p.m. tonight at Wesley Chapel Elementary School, 30243 Wells Road, Wesley Chapel

Anclote High, 7 p.m. Monday at Paul R. Smith Middle School, 1410 Sweetbriar Drive, Holiday

To view the proposals, go to www.pasco.k12.fl.us.

So far, so good on redrawing school boundaries 01/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 11:50am]

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