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Do Pasco schools have to close for others to get new programs?

Concerns remain about the negative effects of shutting down campuses.
Children arrive for classes at Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County shortly after district officials announce they recommend closing the campus by 2021. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Children arrive for classes at Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County shortly after district officials announce they recommend closing the campus by 2021. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published Jan. 30, 2019|Updated Jan. 30, 2019

Pasco County School Board members will discuss on Tuesday the pros and cons of an administrative proposal to shutter two west-side elementary schools and enhance the academic offerings of those that remain.

Among the many questions that board members have submitted, one has emerged as “critical” in their thought process.

“Do we have to close down the schools to get these amazing programs?” asked board member Megan Harding, echoing concerns raised in a letter from vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin to the staff. “I just want to find out a little bit more.”

Chairwoman Alison Crumbley said she, too, needed more information — particularly after hearing educators from Hudson and Mittye P. Locke elementary schools talk about research pointing to the potential negative effects of such a move.

The National Education Policy Center recently highlighted a 2017 study on the question, amid calls for the Oakland, Calif., school system to shut down several campuses. The University of California and University of Maryland researchers called the idea a “high-risk/low-gain strategy” that doesn’t often meet the desired goals for student achievement or non-cognitive well-being.

“It causes political conflict and incurs hidden costs for both districts and local communities, especially low-income communities of color that are differentially affected by school closings,” they wrote.

Pasco district officials said they understand the concerns. But they also stressed the need to improve quality of academics in the west side schools, many of which have been mired in mediocrity when judged by state accountability measures.

“I am committed to making sure that we start revitalizing the west Pasco US 19-Little Road corridor,” superintendent Kurt Browning said.

That means adding advanced programs such as Cambridge and International Baccalaureate, which have garnered strong results in other schools within the district, Browning said. And it should be done at every school, as a means of equity, rather than as a magnet for some, he added.

To do that, though, the district faces financial constraints, Browning said. So while no one wants to close a school, he continued, the clear way to generate the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to implement new programs is to close Hudson and Locke — both of which are 52 years old and prime for costly renovations — and use the operational savings, while also redirecting construction money for those campuses to the others that will grow.

“If we don’t close the two schools, it will be tough to find the resources to make it happen,” he said.

After watching the board reject a similar plan for Lacoochee Elementary in east Pasco, the district staff has been hesitant to do additional work preparing for any changes in west Pasco. The conversation on Feb. 5 will help the administration decide whether to move forward.

“Before we get out of there, I want to know from the School Board what direction do you want me to take this district,” Browning said. “I want some pretty firm direction.”

Some of the board members are focusing on details, such as what might happen to the campuses that would be closed. Others, such as Allen Altman, said they anticipate once they solidify the big picture, the specifics will follow.

All said they expected a candid discussion, with lots of questions and answers, at the morning session.

Related coverage: Pasco school district proposes overhaul of offerings along US 19 corridor

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