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ALL QUIET ON SCHOOL ZONING CHANGES

By involving parents earlier, the School Board avoids turmoil over reassignments.

It's that time of year again, when the Pasco County School District redraws student attendance zone boundaries to accommodate yet another round of new schools.

If this were another county, you might be reading a tale of angry parents who have informed their School Board members in no uncertain terms how upset they are with the proposals. But Pasco has set up a system that lasts months and involves parents from the start, muting many potential criticisms by incorporating most of their concerns at the front end.

So as the School Board prepared to take up the zones today for Veterans Elementary in Wesley Chapel and Crews Lake Middle in Shady Hills, board members said they heard nothing from the public. No phone calls. No e-mails. No complaints.

"I think that (district planning director) Chris Williams and the parents that were on the committee that helped determine the boundaries did a marvelous job of addressing all the issues," said board member Allen Altman, who represents the area that includes Veterans Elementary.

Since attending a public meeting on the proposed zone, he said, "I have not had a single call."

It's not that folks don't get upset about the possibility of moving their children from one school to another.

Lake Padgett residents got up in arms over the prospect of reassigning half the community from Land O'Lakes High to Sunlake High last year. Dade City parents were riled by the decision to send some of their kids from Weightman Middle to Pasco Middle during a 1999 rezoning.

"If people don't like it, they call - immediately," board member Marge Whaley said, recalling parents at past board meetings with posters and protest chants.

This time around, she said, "I haven't had a single boundary call, which tells me that things are pretty good."

Planning director Williams oversees the attendance zone effort. He said that some people have asked good questions about the proposals, and many of their recommendations find their way into the final maps.

Sometimes this happens in the runup to the board meeting. Other times, it takes place at the board meeting itself.

Williams recalled, for instance, when the board moved a line between Trinity and the new Longleaf elementary schools just moments before adopting the final map in 2004.

"I always encourage people that, if you're not satisfied with the boundary, go to the School Board. Bring a proposal," he said. "If it makes sense, then the board is going to listen."

In other words, the fix isn't in and the boundary is not complete until the board's final vote.

By the same token, Williams said, not every idea gets adopted.

In many instances, the desires of a small group cannot outweigh the overarching school district's needs to balance enrollment, keep portables to a minimum and so forth.

That's what happened last year when some Meadow Pointe parents asked for changes to the New River Elementary boundary, and some Ivy Lake Estates parents asked the board not to send their children to Rushe Middle. The board looked to the parent-dominated committees that reviewed the proposals, and decided to leave the committee maps intact.

The School Board today will take up the attendance zone maps for Veterans Elementary and Crews Lake Middle on first reading. The final vote is set for Feb. 19.

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

Boundary changes

The Pasco County School Board meets at 9:30 a.m. today in Land O'Lakes. During the meeting it will consider on first reading boundary proposals for two new schools. The recommended changes are:

- Veterans Elementary: Take about 300 students from the Seven Oaks zone, east of Wesley Chapel Boulevard and Old Pasco Road, and about 450 students from Quail Hollow Elementary, including the Lexington Oaks and Grand Oaks subdivisions.

- Crews Lake Middle: Take about 65 students from Pine View, 300 students from River Ridge and about 300 students from Hudson. The zone encompasses the Shady Hills and Mary Giella elementary school boundaries. About 50 students living north of State Road 52 also would be transferred from Bayonet Point to Hudson.

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