School Board member says sixth-graders should be allowed to play sports

Pasco School Board member Steve Luikart, right, says he can think of no reason why sixth-graders should not be allowed to participate in sports.
Pasco School Board member Steve Luikart, right, says he can think of no reason why sixth-graders should not be allowed to participate in sports.
Published Oct. 26, 2017

Pasco County middle schools offer students the chance to play competitive football, soccer, basketball, volleyball and track.

Just not sixth-graders.

Unlike other area school districts, Pasco limits its middle school athletics to older students (though sixth-graders are welcome to serve as team managers). School Board member Steve Luikart wants to consider changing that practice.

"We don't have any policies or procedures that are against it. We just haven't done it," Luikart told his board colleagues recently. "It is something that I think is worthy of looking at, and getting sixth-graders more involved at the middle schools they are in."

Luikart said he could not think of any negatives attached to the idea, although in the past some officials have raised concerns that the sixth-graders — who often are smaller than the older students — could get hurt.

Board Chairman Allen Altman said he has received similar calls throughout his three terms, but in the past some school athletic directors had worries about allowing sixth-graders to play. He said he would be willing to listen to the pros and cons again.

"I think it's worth looking into," board member Alison Crumbley added.

Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said district officials have no grave concerns about the idea, but have asked middle school principals for feedback.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Pasco County School District has notified two troubled charter schools that they have just weeks to work out problems district officials have identified.

One of those schools, Florida Virtual Academy of Pasco, could face closure if it cannot comply.

Florida Virtual Academy (which is not associated with Florida Virtual School) faces a nine-page laundry list of contract violations from the district. Those include poor academic performance, lacking accreditation, late or missing financial reports, and a constantly fluctuating governing board.

Superintendent Kurt Browning gave the school until Nov. 16 to correct the deficiencies. Failure to do so could lead to the termination or non-renewal of the charter's contract, Browning wrote.

Pasco MYcroSchool faces a different situation. Its leaders planned to open with 250 students, but had fewer than a dozen on the first day of classes. By Oct. 2, the school's enrollment was up to 37.

The district paid MYcro­School state funds for two months before students arrived, though, based on the 250-student projection.

"Considering ... it is not likely that the charter school will reach the projected enrollment of 250 students by the fiscal year end, the Sponsor is requesting that the charter school reimburse the Sponsor for the overpayment of these public funds in the amount of $177,194," district charter school program coordinator Jeff Yungmann wrote in his Oct. 16 letter to the school. "Please remit payment on or before Oct. 31, 2017."

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Pasco MYcroSchool officials have said in the past that the money went toward materials to open the school, and if it had to be returned, they did not know how long the school might be able to continue.

DEPARTURES: The Pasco School District is losing another veteran administrator to retirement.

Lynn Pabst, principal of New River Elementary School, told her staff she plans to end her 33-year career with the district. Her last day is expected to be sometime in January.

Pabst has been New River's only principal, helping to create its culture from the ground up. The staff there has credited her with turning the school into a community that has worked to overcome some academic challenges, including a steep dropoff in state grading in 2013, without the troubles that plagued other campuses with similar issues.

New River has one of the school district's lowest teacher turnover rates, in large part because of Pabst's leadership. Officials have not announced the time line to seek a new principal.

The district's point person in Tallahassee also will be leaving the system, after a three-year stint as the district's first full-time in-house lobbyist.

Spencer Pylant, who joined the district after working as a legislative aide to former state Sen. John Legg, will become government affairs director for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. His first day is Nov. 13.

Pylant said he is moving for personal reasons, not professional ones, and called his decision "bittersweet." He will switch gears from education to business issues, with an added focus on building relationships among Miami-Dade's many municipalities and the business community.

District communications and government affairs director Linda Cobbe said she will be looking to replace Pylant with someone who can easily move into the legislative session, and also work on public records requests, newsletter writing and other responsibilities.

"Spencer set the bar very high for anyone following him," Cobbe said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or Follow @jeffsolochek.