NEW PORT RICHEY — With two new schools opening this fall and two more on the way, the Pasco County school district finally looks like it will have more seats than students when classes resume in August.
If only all the students lived near those seats.
Even with the projection that the district will be at 96 percent capacity, several schools are slated to add portables and remain crowded well beyond the number of children they're supposed to hold. Others, meanwhile, will sit more than 30 percent vacant.
This summer, district officials plan to redraw attendance zones for all the middle and high schools in west Pasco, changing where thousands of children go to school for the 2010-11 academic year. The middle schools in central Pasco are expected to be spared, but the elementary schools there are scheduled to come up for rezoning once the west Pasco effort is over.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is after November, December," district planning director Chris Williams said. "We should be completely done until the next new school."
District plans show a two- or three-year respite in new construction after it opens an elementary school in the Trinity area and a high school in Hudson in 2010.
Already, a committee of parents and district employees has made recommendations for the new Hudson high school's boundaries. As part of that effort, the committee also looked to shift students among other high schools on the west side to better balance their enrollments.
Gulf High, for instance, is projected to be 87 percent full, while Ridgewood High is slated to open the year at 127 percent of its capacity. Some shifts could change those numbers.
Today a separate committee will take a look at the middle school zones in west Pasco.
The committee will "see if there's an opportunity to adjust those boundary lines, particularly looking at feeder patterns and how the high school boundaries have changed," Williams said.
One goal is to get all the students from each middle school to track into the same high school after eighth grade. Another is to shift students so no schools are overfilled while others remain well below the numbers they can serve.
Gulf, Crews Lake, Smith and Hudson middle schools are expected to open at less than 80 percent of capacity in the fall. By contrast, River Ridge, Bayonet Point and Seven Springs middle schools are projected to have more than students than permanent seats.
"We will try to get all the middle schools below capacity," Williams said, suggesting as many as 500 students or more might be rezoned for 2010-11.
Central Pasco scene
He acknowledged that the middle schools in central Pasco face a similar situation. Pine View Middle in Land O'Lakes is slated to have 264 fewer students than seats, while John Long Middle in Wesley Chapel is expected to have 401 more students than it has permanent spots for.
In between them, Rushe Middle will hover at just under 100 percent of its capacity.
District officials have considered redrawing the central Pasco middle school map, too. But they rejected that idea because it would lead to a temporary solution.
"As soon as growth comes back, (Pine View and Rushe) are going to fill up," Williams said.
Then the district will end up redrawing the lines again, most likely in conjunction with the construction of a new middle school on Old Pasco Road, where the School Board has purchased land for the eventual need to ease crowding at Long Middle.
Once the west Pasco high school and middle school zones are proposed, they'll go to the School Board, probably in the fall. Then the district will turn its attention to boundaries for the new Trinity area elementary school, which is intended to relieve crowding at Oakstead and Longleaf — Pasco's two most crowded elementary schools.
Residents of the Suncoast Meadows and Suncoast Point neighborhoods have begun to make noise about wanting to remain at Oakstead. They're the two westernmost subdivisions in Oakstead and therefore are targets for rezoning.
"The Mentmore Drive corridor is a community and shouldn't be split up," parent Stephanie Deeb wrote in an e-mail to Williams. "Many of us bought our homes knowing we would have a safe non-SR 54 bus ride to school."
Shannon Van Dielen, another parent, also raised concerns about traffic.
"Even though the distance is not much longer, the capacity for a more serious accident is present," she wrote in a separate e-mail to the district. "At this time our students have the ability to travel through internal neighborhood roads with a maximum speed limit of 40 (mph) all the way to Oakstead Elementary."
Williams said he understands the viewpoints that are emerging. But the district needs to take 200 or more students out of Oakstead, so he would not rule out moving the neighborhoods.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.