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Don't shortchange black heritage in school plan

The Pasco school district has a poor sense of timing. It picked Black History Month to reveal it might shutter the complex that housed the county's first permanent school for black students.

Closing the Moore Mickens Education Center and moving its Cyesis, GED and vocational programs to undetermined sites has been met with understandable disdain from the African-American community. Dade City Commissioner and retired teacher Eunice Pennix promised a petition drive to try to keep the status quo that would preserve the historical significance, pride and sense of community tied to the Moore Mickens school.

Except the district does not plan to bulldoze the structures. Potential options include turning the campus into a community center or a black history museum.

"We're open to whatever the community wants to do,'' said assistant superintendent Ray Gadd.

That is a good thing. The school's origins date to the 1930s when it was known as Moore Academy. It eventually included a new Moore Elementary School and Mickens High, both added in the 1950s during segregation. The district turned the buildings into a middle school in 1981 and reconfigured it as an adult-oriented education center six years later.

The district now says: Dated buildings present a maintenance headache; personnel costs are too high and can be reduced by moving the classes to an existing school; there are safety concerns from a projected freight traffic increase on the nearby rail lines; and, most importantly, the district needs to increase educational offerings to Moore Mickens students, some of whom travel to Pasco High for courses.

Essentially, the district wants to duplicate the scenario that exists at Marchman Technical Education Center, which has a Cyesis program and class offerings similar to Moore Mickens. At Marchman, in west Pasco, students can attend high school classes by walking across the street to Ridgewood High. Moore Mickens' isolated campus in Dade City denies its students the same opportunity.

The district had been considering moving the Moore Mickens campus across town to property near the James Irvin Education Center, located on State Road 52 near Pasco High, but that proposed real estate acquisition fell apart. Now, the district said, it may move the Moore Mickens programs to portable classrooms at Pasco Elementary and Pasco High schools. A significant by-product is an estimated $1 million annual savings to a district trying to close a more than $20 million budget gap.

Certainly, safety, expense and enhanced classroom offerings are legitimate concerns, but so, too, is the community identity associated with Moore Mickens. This is particularly true in Dade City where residents faced down another objectionable idea last year that would have put a large city-owned water tank on a ball field in the Mickens Harper neighborhood.

Recent history indicates strong community support is vital to preserving Moore Mickens. Several years ago, the school district was unable to save another historic school building in Dade City amid concerns about asbestos removal, the unwillingness of the city to invest in the restoration and the inability of volunteers to obtain preservation grants. The county's first public high school, built in 1914, sat vacant for a dozen years at 14th Street and Howard Avenue before being demolished in 2006.

Moore Mickens, a central part of the county's African American heritage, deserves a much better fate.

Don't shortchange black heritage in school plan 02/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 7:56pm]
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