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Enrollment growth continues to challenge Pasco County schools

The School Board will address the issue in a workshop.
Mike Young, 39, arrives with his sons on their first day at Cypress Creek High School in Wesley Chapel. Sixth- through eighth-grade students attend the campus, which still has room for a separate middle school. Photos by OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Mike Young, 39, arrives with his sons on their first day at Cypress Creek High School in Wesley Chapel. Sixth- through eighth-grade students attend the campus, which still has room for a separate middle school. Photos by OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Dec. 19, 2017

This past fall, the Pasco County school district opened a new west-side elementary school and east side high school, and redrew attendance boundaries across the county, in hopes of easing crowding at several over-capacity campuses.

The effort had limited effect, with added incoming students filling some seats, and more expected in the next few years.

Five of the district's 14 high schools remain well above their built size, with two others hovering right at 100 percent full. Half of the county's 16 middle schools are at or above capacity, as well.

On Tuesday, the School Board will hold a workshop to discuss what to do about it.

The board already won approval this past summer for an increased impact fee, to help pay for new school construction made necessary by new home growth. During that process, residents and builders alike acknowledged the need for new schools, and the fact that even with the higher fee, the district would likely still come up short on revenue needed to pay for the space.

So the driving question becomes, how can the school system best leverage its resources to accommodate for rising enrollment. It already has a few projects in the works. Those include renovations with added seats at Land O'Lakes High, Woodland Elementary and Zephyrhills High; a new middle school alongside the recently opened Cypress Creek High (2020 projected debut); and a new K-8 school in the Starkey Ranch subdivision (2021).

After that, the future is more open.

Officials are looking into ideas such as renovating abandoned big box retail stores, such as the Super Target near the Suncoast Parkway. They're contemplating more magnet programs in their low-capacity schools, with hopes of luring more students interested in the academic offerings.

And they're looking closely at more classroom additions in "strategic locations," as they've already done at some campuses to alleviate congestion.

Facing new state restrictions on construction costs, district leaders have suggested the classroom wings might be a more effective and efficient use of funds. As they note in a presentation going to the board, "the same funding that was expended at [Cypress Creek High], which provided student  accommodations for approximately 2,000 students, would have provided quality classroom addition accommodations for approximately 3,400 students."

When they do build new structures, officials also are considering whether to make schools' permanent capacities larger than in the past. The district historically has tended toward smaller schools.

Other ideas on the table include partnering with other organizations for space, including charter schools; creating more K-8 schools; and building taller structures on smaller pieces of land.

The board will have its workshop at 4 p.m.