1. Gradebook

Ruling on Pasco school rezoning lawsuit to come early in 2018

Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd heard the case in early December.
Published Dec. 18, 2017

A group of west Pasco County parents' yearlong challenge of the school district's revised attendance zones for Mitchell High and the surrounding area should get a judge's decision in the next few weeks.

Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd has told lawyers for the parents and district that she intends to issue a ruling in the first two weeks of 2018, on the question of whether a committee that advised the superintendent on the zones violated state open meetings laws.

Byrd heard testimony in the first full week of December, and received written closing arguments shortly afterward.

The parents' lawyer, Paul Crochet, noted that superintendent Kurt Browning convened the group to recommend changes to the attendance boundaries, going so far as to remind members they were subject to Florida Sunshine Law.

He cited precedents in which courts have ruled that members of such advisory groups to elected officials must operate publicly, unless they are only gathering facts. He also noted cases stating that members are subject to the rules upon appointment, and not after beginning their official meetings, as district lawyers have argued.

Crochet alleged that a handful of committee members had private electronic conversations about issues that were likely to come to the full panel for discussion and review, and as such should be sanctioned.

For the district, lawyer Dennis Alfonso put forth that the plaintiffs failed to prove a violation of the law, and further that if there had been a violation, the district "cured" it when the board held public hearings and voted on the zones afterward.

Byrd declined to issue a summary judgment before the formal trial. She also refused to issue an injunction against the new boundaries in the summer.

The plaintiffs also have a separate case on appeal, relating to the district's procedures in adopting the attendance zones. A special magistrate ruled that the district had to follow state rule-making laws when setting the zones, but found that it had done so.

The board has since changed its process, doing away with items including the advisory committee, which were not required as part of rule making.