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Avoid independent meetings on school rezoning, attorney tells Pasco School Board

The process is designed for board members to receive the same information when making a decision, he advises.
Pasco County School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso, right, has advised the board to consider limiting its rezoning discussions with residents to public meetings only.  [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Pasco County School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso, right, has advised the board to consider limiting its rezoning discussions with residents to public meetings only. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published Apr. 4, 2018

Several Pasco County parents and other residents have sought private audiences with School Board members in advance of a pending decision on recommended revisions to west-side attendance zones.

The board's lawyer has advised extreme caution.

"You may, but need not, meet individually in response to these requests," board attorney Dennis Alfonso told members.

The controversial proposals have been subjected to lawsuits when approved a year ago, Alfonso noted, and some residents have made not-so-veiled threats that more litigation could come as a result of this year's pending action.

"In light of all these considerations, I would certainly recommend to board members it would be preferred that if people want to be heard, they participate in the process," Alfonso said.

The process he spoke about has included a public workshop, where interested parties could attend and ask questions of staff; a time period for submitting written comments that go to all board members; and a public hearing to speak directly to the board.

The hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 10.

At that time, superintendent Kurt Browning will bring a recommendation to rezone neighborhoods that had been approved for reassignment in 2017.

"In essence, the recommendation that I am forwarding to the school board is the same recommendation that was upheld by the administrative law judge last year," Browning told the board.

Related coverage: Administrative judge sides with Pasco County school district in west-side rezoning challenge

A county judge later voided the rezoning after determining that some members of an advisory group to the superintendent violated state open meeting law in discussing the proposals.

Parents who fought the 2017 plan have signaled their intent to keep up the pressure, submitting several challenges to the district's procedure.

Unless it deviates from its plan, the board intends to vote on the superintendent's proposal — which differs from the staff recommendation — on May 1.