School district changes process for redrawing school boundaries

BRENDAN FITTERER | TimesThe new system for redrawing school boundaries in Pasco will begin with district planners preparing maps that will be considered by superintendent Kurt Browning, shown here.
BRENDAN FITTERER | TimesThe new system for redrawing school boundaries in Pasco will begin with district planners preparing maps that will be considered by superintendent Kurt Browning, shown here.
Published Nov. 9, 2017

A prolonged legal battle with some dissatisfied parents has prompted the Pasco County School District to revamp its process for redrawing school attendance boundaries.

Parents still will have opportunities to speak their mind on any proposals coming to the School Board. But advisory committees comprised of parents and principals, which the district had used for several years, will no longer be part of the streamlined model.

Instead, the system will begin with district planners preparing maps for the superintendent's consideration. Once a set of zones are settled upon, the district would conduct a public hearing where residents could view the maps, speak with officials and submit written comments.

The proposal also will appear online, with a comment section.

"The superintendent and board will get all of that feedback … all in one place," assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn said.

After the public hearing, the superintendent will review the comments and make any changes before sending a formal proposal to the board.

"Once I make my recommendation to the board, I'll use the term 'locked down,' " superintendent Kurt Browning said.

The district then will publish notice of a public meeting where the board will take testimony on the official proposal.

"If it needs to be all day, it will be all day," Browning said.

The board would vote at its next scheduled meeting. If the board rejects the boundaries, the staff would make a new recommendation, and the board would have a new hearing.

Browning explained that the new model emerged to ensure that the district fully follows the state's administrative procedures laws. The parents who challenged the most recent rezoning efforts accused the board of not adhering to all of the rules — something an administrative law judge refuted.

District leaders anticipate putting the new model into practice if the School Board approves converting Ridgewood High into a magnet technical school.

BARGAINING: After a two-month break, school district contract negotiations resumed in early November with the United School Employees of Pasco presenting its salary proposals for teachers and non-instructional personnel.

The union asked for a 0.875 percent cost-of-living increase for every teacher, adding that amount to their base pay before any supplements are considered. That change would total $2.1 million, or half the money USEP is seeking for higher teacher salaries.

The other half would be applied to the district's performance-based and grandfathered salary schedule plans.

Union leaders asked for a 2.75 percent raise for non-instructional staff.

The USEP also has asked for a $142-per-employee increase in health insurance costs for all employees. The district traditionally has fully covered this benefit for the staff.

The district intended to bring a counterproposal after reviewing the union offer.

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Both USEP president Don Peace and superintendent Kurt Browning had hoped to have completed negotiations by this time. The sides are now aiming to get the work done before Thanksgiving.

PAID IN FULL: A new Pasco County charter school that enrolled hundreds fewer students than projected has repaid the school district for the extra state money it received this summer, before classes began.

Pasco MYcroSchool, intended to help students who have dropped out of high school, set all its plans as if it would have 250 students. The state advanced the school $252,152, or two months of per-student funding, based on that expectation.

But only 14 students showed up, a number that later rose to a high of 37. District officials said many were part time, and the official count of full-time students totaled four.

In mid-October, district charter schools supervisor Jeff Yungmann sent a letter, giving Pasco MYcroSchool until Oct. 31 to return the overpayment of $177,194 in state funds.

The district received the full amount Nov. 1, spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

The charter school, which has three teachers and a principal on staff, has requested the release of a state start-up grant that has been frozen because the school has yet to meet its projections. Without the money, principal Sandra Sonberg has said in the past, it would be difficult for the school to continue operations.

Sonberg did not respond to an email inquiry regarding how Pasco MYcroSchool will deal with the low enrollment and loss of funds.

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