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Pasco's proposed school boundaries draw protest from parents

LAND O'LAKES — About three dozen people filed into the Pasco School Board chambers on Tuesday morning, each wearing a simple sticker stating "Suncoast Lakes resident."

"Never have I seen this many parents come to a boundary meeting," three-term board member Cathi Martin remarked, observing how well organized and prepared the group was in making its case against sending their children from River Ridge High to Hudson High.

More people would have attended, opponent Laura Cole said, if the session hadn't taken place at 9:30 a.m. on a school and work day. She handed the board a petition signed by about 330 people, saying the document represented their views.

"Parents paid a premium for their homes believing they would be sending their children to River Ridge High School," Cole said. "That was very important to them."

The proposed shift would come as part of the district's plan to move students to open new Fivay High School in Hudson while also decreasing crowding at River Ridge and Ridgewood high schools. The Suncoast Lakes subdivision, south of State Road 52 just off the Suncoast Parkway, falls between several high schools.

A committee of parents and educators recommended moving those students to Hudson High to keep them in the same feeder pattern with other children also attending Giella Elementary and Crews Lake Middle. The district also could save money on busing costs, officials said.

The Suncoast Lakes residents disputed the district's findings, and suggested that their children's academic interests should come first. They have argued that Hudson High simply doesn't have the academic successes that River Ridge has experienced, based on graduation rates, FCAT scores and other outcome-based measures.

Parents from the Oakstead subdivision also spoke up against the proposed new attendance boundary for Oakstead Elementary. The school stands to lose about 200 children as the district creates a zone for Elementary S in the Trinity area.

A handful of parents argued that the district should pull more kids out of Oakstead, which has more than 1,000 students and more than 20 portable classrooms — well beyond any other Pasco elementary school.

"Take a look at the student populations, take the emotion out of it, and try to find a solution that uses facilities in equal and enhancing ways for the students," parent Christopher Ayoub said.

After hearing nearly 45 minutes of comments, School Board members asked the staff a handful of questions about the issues the parents raised.

They didn't make any motions to change the proposed maps. But neither did they rule out alterations when the maps come back to the board for a final vote on Nov. 17.

"We can still make an amendment for change," board member Joanne Hurley said.

Board member Kathryn Starkey has said she might make a motion to support the Suncoast Lakes residents. After the meeting, she met with the parent organizers, who expressed some optimism that they still might prevail in this zoning matter.

If not, parent Amy Hertog said, the district simply will see a big carpool caravan from Suncoast Lakes to River Ridge as families use school choice to stay out of Hudson High.

Both Starkey and Hurley later told Jim Davis, assistant superintendent for high schools, that the district probably needs to do something to more positively promote Hudson High, which didn't get much love on Tuesday.

No parents came out to oppose several boundary changes affecting a variety of west Pasco middle schools.

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.

Pasco's proposed school boundaries draw protest from parents 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 8:31pm]
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