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Pasco parents still seek answers on proposed school rezoning

District officials have not offered any hint they might change their proposal.
[Pasco County school district]
[Pasco County school district]
Published Apr. 18, 2018

At the end of a lengthy public hearing on school zones last week, Pasco County School Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong told parents to continue sending thoughts and ideas right up to the scheduled May 1 vote.

"This is still open for comment," Armstrong advised the community.

Some parents, particularly from the Longleaf and Ellington subdivisions slated for reassignment, took her up on that offer. They did more research, adding to the reams of information they've already submitted to the district, and urged the officials to consider the latest details that hadn't been included in the staff evaluations of the current plans.

A 400-home section of Longleaf has been mothballed, they told the board, meaning the area is less likely to create added crowding — the district's stated concern in moving students around.

Nearly 80 Mitchell High students will head to the new Krinn Technical High School, further easing the congestion, they added.

The parents even used newly revealed information from the district — its plan to open a Starkey K-8 school solely for the Starkey Ranch and Asturia communities — as a point for further review.

"Why would you want to separate the two neighborhoods now that are going to be together in just two years?" asked parent Jeannie Dunning, who has tirelessly worked to move the board off its current path.

Doesn't that fly in the face of the district's goal of keeping students together, she and others wondered. Why not flip the map and let established Longleaf and Ellington stay put, and rezone Starkey Ranch and Asturia into River Ridge High instead?

The parents, and some children, pleaded with the board to look at all the information available and then find a fair plan that solves the district's west-side crowding problems in a way that is clear and understandable to all.

It's a concern they've raised for two years. The district's criteria, such as subdivision integrity and transportation corridors, were in a list, but how they actually rated each to the rezoning proposals was never presented.

The latest map, parent Katie Beckett said, felt "half baked," seemingly based on the district's failed rezoning effort of a year ago more than anything else. Superintendent Kurt Browning essentially said as much, noting at one point that he was simply recommending what had been approved before.

But Browning's move to eliminate several neighborhoods west of Seven Springs Boulevard from rezoning consideration, based on parent input, only served to convince the Longleaf and Ellington parents that something else was at play. After all, they've made similar pleas to no effect.

"It was rushed, it doesn't make any sense," Beckett said Tuesday. "Why is it just us again? It feels incredibly personal."

Parent Bret Tobey has appeared at several board meetings with his wife and children. His large family means he'll be impacted by rezoning for years, and he worries that this round is only the beginning.

Tobey has offered ideas for a clear process that allows everyone to see the rationale for the boundary changes, whether they like them or not. He asked the board to look past the legal challenges that some parents raised, which might have soured the district and hardened its line, and work with the community for long-lasting answers.

"Please direct staff to be as open as possible," Tobey told the board. "This is not just about, can we get our way this time."

So far, the district administration has offered no public signal that it will alter its proposal. Some board members have said they are still listening.

"I haven't made up my mind," vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley said of the proposal.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin said she also has questions outstanding about the plan.

Whether the discussion will lead to delay, or additional change, remains to be seen. The board is expected to vote on the rezoning proposal at its meeting 9 a.m. May 1.