Community emotion topped common sense education in school superintendent Kurt Browning's reversal of a planned closing of the Moore Mickens Education Center in Dade City.
Browning, after facing an often vitriolic crowd Monday evening, pulled the plug on his proposal to move the center's offerings across town to Pasco High School. The original suggestion was part of a strategy to close a projected budget shortfall of more than $20 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Instead, Cyesis teen parenting, credit recovery, adult and special education classes will remain at the Moore Mickens site that served in the segregation era as the first permanent school for Pasco's black children.
The expected $1 million in savings now vanishes as does the enhanced opportunities for Moore Mickens' 120 students. That is unfortunate and contradicts a 2011 state recommendation to expand educational offerings to the teens in the Cyesis program. The move to Pasco High would have given current and future students easy access to honors, advanced placement, electives, and expanded career and technical training classes.
In that regard, the criticism of Browning as uncaring about students was unfair as were other off-base parochial gripes contrasting resources in east and west Pasco. However, it was clear the sense of community and historical significance surrounding the Moore Mickens school could not be trumped easily by immediate budget concerns.
Regrettably, the decision also means the historical significance of the school building and the Moore Mickens names likely will remain unappreciated beyond a small portion of east Pasco. Had the students moved to Pasco High, the district could have turned the campus into a civic building, museum or training center to broaden its exposure beyond its current use.
With that in mind, Moore Mickens' advocates, Browning and the School Board shouldn't allow this opportunity for an open dialogue to slip away. Browning should try to forge a community task force to suggest a better future for the aging structures that would honor the historical significance of the school and its namesakes.
The Moore Mickens Education Center remains, but a pricey cost center serving such a sparse student population is problematic for a fiscally challenged school district. Browning heard the community loud and clear Monday evening. At some point, community members' listening skills may need to be just as sharp.