Consensus reached on zone for new central Pasco school, but plenty of work remains

Published Sept. 21, 2016

WESLEY CHAPEL — After one meeting, a committee of parents and Pasco County School District officials reached a tentative agreement on which communities to move into High School GGG when it opens next fall.

Their work, however, is far from over.

Despite coming to a general consensus on a basic attendance zone for the sixth- through-12th-grade campus, which sits on Old Pasco Road just north of Overpass Road, the group didn't come close to its goal of alleviating severe crowding at John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High schools. It also has yet to examine any proposals for how student demographics or other key factors would break out.

District planning director Chris Williams told the committee that no existing schools should have dramatically different ratios of low-income students, for instance, once GGG opens. GGG also should not be significantly imbalanced, Williams said.

To start, the committee aimed to identify the areas that seemed most sensible because of location to zone into GGG. District officials, who have been accused of having lines already prepared for rezoning schools, presented only maps showing current zones, neighborhood configurations, numbers of students in different areas and other related information.

They asked and answered questions that the parent members brought as they aimed to place about 1,800 children into the new school zone.

"It's like a big puzzle," Julie Ketterer, a parent representing Rushe Middle School, said as she pored over spreadsheets and colored maps. "There are so many possibilities."

At the end of their first effort, the committee reached consensus that several communities west of Interstate 75 should shift to the new school. They would include: Quail Hollow West, Lexington Oaks, Grand Oaks, Veterans East, the Oaks, Cypress Estates, Stagecoach/Enclave and Cypress Creek Town Center. The group all but eliminated the largest two subdivisions in the John Long/Wiregrass Ranch zone — Seven Oaks and Meadow Pointe — from consideration for a move, although they acknowledged that some unspecified shifting of students would have to occur to help the two campuses, which have suffered the district's most severe crowding.

At 1,866 students, John Long is bigger than all but three of the county's high schools. Wiregrass Ranch, with the county's largest enrollment of 2,501, has freshmen starting late and upperclassmen leaving early in a 10-period day to handle the load.

Yet the bulk of the movement in the initially suggested GGG zone would be "mostly relieving Weightman" Middle and Wesley Chapel High, which have some crowding but not to the same extent, John Long principal Christine Wolff noted.

More changes will be necessary, Williams said, advising the committee to focus on one issue at a time rather than trying to answer all of the questions at once.

He said the same process will take place when the district creates new boundaries to open Elementary B in Bexley Ranch and to balance attendance in west Pasco middle and high schools. With no new school opening in west Pasco, Trinity-area parents have already begun agitating to slow or halt any effort to draw them out of crowded Seven Springs Middle and Mitchell High schools.

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If all goes as planned, the School Board intends to vote on all three rezonings in January, before school choice for 2017-18 opens in February.

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