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West Pasco school improvement plan to appear in budget proposal, superintendent says

The School Board asked for action without closing any campuses.
Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning seeks support from community leaders for a plan to revamp offerings in schools along the US 19 corridor, during a Jan. 31, 2019, meeting at River Ridge High School. [Jeffrey S. Solochek | Times]
Published May 30
Updated May 30

When Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning proposed closing two west-side schools to generate funds for improving several others, his School Board told him to find another way.

Browning now plans to propose about $400,000 in general funds, and another $200,000 in grant money, to get the ball rolling at some of the schools his team targeted for more advanced offerings.

The amount would go into planning to offer the Cambridge Programme at all three schools on the Hudson High School campus. Hudson Middle and Hudson High also would adopt the AVID college readiness and preparation program.

Gulf Middle School would benefit from the new plan, as well, with the beginning stages of the International Baccalaureate middle years program.

“I am extremely committed to moving forward in providing more rigorous learning opportunities for students in west Pasco,” Browning said. “This is the first piece.”

Other ideas from the district’s Project RISE, such as creating a STEAM elementary magnet school, would be placed on hold for at least another year as officials look for alternate sources of revenue. District leaders also are keeping a close eye on school grades, because some west Pasco schools — such as Hudson and Calusa elementary — could be required to make major changes if they receive a D or F.

Browning suggested that he would prefer to overhaul schools in that scenario locally, rather than hand them over to a charter school or other outside operator. Converting a campus facing the possibility of a state-mandated turnaround plan could become a choice, as it was for Ridgewood High, which became Krinn Technical this year. (The state later revealed that Ridgewood would have earned a C and could have avoided the most dramatic accountability measures.)

The superintendent acknowledged that recent efforts to attract more students to Paul R. Smith Middle and Anclote High, in Holiday, by offering the Cambridge model did not have the desired effect on enrollment. The district’s latest school choice report indicates that more students are leaving Anclote than transferring in for next fall.

He said he wanted to view making more advanced academics available through a different lens than simply as a population control system.

“We are looking at it as providing educational equity for those kids,” Browning said, noting that Pasco’s northwest corridor is the main area of the county without added high-level programs for students living there.

The district administration continues to review spending for all departments and schools, as it prepares to craft a budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Browning also has said he intends to make increasing salaries a top priority, looking at adding money to that line item first before filling in other gaps.

But he stressed that advancing plans to improve offerings in west Pasco, where poverty often gets overlooked, remains a key goal as well.

Board members have said they would support efforts to amp up the schools there, so long as the idea of closures remains off the table. Vice chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin, part of the majority that nixed the superintendent’s original plan, said she was pleased to see the effort to add new offerings to the schools in a slower, more methodical way to ensure they are well implemented to reach the students who can use them.

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