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Pasco proposes closing Locke Elementary, citing low enrollment

Students there would be reassigned to other area schools, and Locke could be used for other programs.
The facilities at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School in New Port Richey have begun showing their age after 56 years and need a significant overhaul, officials say.
The facilities at Mittye P. Locke Elementary School in New Port Richey have begun showing their age after 56 years and need a significant overhaul, officials say. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Oct. 4|Updated Oct. 4

For the second time in four years, Pasco County school district administrators are recommending the closure of Mittye P. Locke Elementary School in New Port Richey.

The school has seen enrollment steadily decrease over the past seven years, with its classrooms 57% filled in the most recent official student count. Its facilities, meanwhile, have begun showing their age after 56 years and need a significant overhaul, officials said.

An $11 million remodel has been considered for the campus, but delayed as officials discuss whether the money could be better spent.

They said during a workshop Tuesday that the school could retain a 10-classroom wing for a proposed early learning center focused on Head Start, voluntary prekindergarten and pre-k/special education combined classes. The approximately 420 K-5 students at Locke would be reassigned in 2023-24 to nearby Richey, Cotee River, Anclote or Gulf Trace elementary schools — all of which are at about 70% capacity or below.

“It’s never easy to close a school,” superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board.

But this move would help reduce underuse of schools in southwest Pasco, he said, while also meeting a critical need for improved early literacy in the area. District records show high numbers of children ages 3 and under in the Elfers/New Port Richey/Holiday region, he said, and many are arriving in kindergarten with low literacy skills.

“This would increase their level of success when they get into kindergarten and first grade,” Browning said.

The administration also proposed closing Locke in 2018, citing similar concerns. That time around, the board rejected the concept amid furious community pushback.

Related: Pasco board chills plan to shutter two west-side schools

After hearing the latest proposal, board members sounded a more positive note.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble filling it up,” chairperson Cynthia Armstrong said.

Board member Alison Crumbley, who opposed the 2018 proposal, said the new idea answered most of her past concerns. Children would not face long bus rides, she said, and would have increased opportunities for academic enrichment.

Offering additional prekindergarten opportunities also will benefit children, she added. “The decisions are about the best interest of our students.”

Vice chairperson Megan Harding signaled initial support for the idea, as well. She stressed that it’s a proposal that still requires board approval.

She did not want families and teachers to abandon Locke now, just because the idea was introduced at the workshop, as well as through emails to parents and a meeting with staff members.

“We still have kids to educate,” Harding said.

Browning said he planned to bring up the proposal for a board vote on Oct. 18, so it can be in place in time for school choice applications in January, if approved.

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