District backs away from deal for new school site in Zephyrhills

Kurt Browning is the state’s highest-paid elected school district chief, according to the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
Kurt Browning is the state’s highest-paid elected school district chief, according to the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
Published Sept. 6, 2017

With land at a premium, and crowding on the rise amid increasing enrollment, the Pasco County School Board has regularly sought to bank land on the growing east side of the county for future school construction.

It thought it had the next location in hand with the purchase of 64 acres in Zephyrhills. The district agreed to pay $5 million for land owned by Zephyr Egg Co., with plans to eventually place a new high school on the site.

High School JJJ was not in the district's updated five-year plan, but officials have long made clear the need to prepare for new subdivisions popping upon the east side

Now, the land deal has fallen through.

Just more than a month after approving the buy, the district staff has advised the School Board to terminate the contract. District planning director Chris Williams has proposed backing out after a closer look at the property revealed "the site will not meet the needs of the district under the conditions of the contract."

He did not provide additional explanation.

THIRD-GRADE LAWSUIT: With a single sentence, a parental challenge to Florida's third-grade retention law has ended in Leon County court. Pasco County was one of the original defendants in the case.

The parents' lawyer filed a notice of voluntary dismissal in the matter in August, shortly after the Florida Department of Education moved to have the case dismissed. The case had not been argued beyond a hearing on a temporary injunction.

It had been hung up on venue issues, with districts contending that the suit should have been brought in their home counties rather than in the state capital. The 1st District Court of Appeal agreed, and the Florida Supreme Court did not act to overturn that ruling.

That left the merits of the case to be considered if the plaintiffs, whose children have already completed fourth grade, or some other families seek to refile the case at home.

Activists have suggested that some families, particularly in neighboring Hernando County, are regrouping with the intent to sue in their local courts. No cases have been submitted.

Meanwhile, several districts, including Pasco, have taken steps to revise their practices regarding the promotion of students who refuse to take the state test. The law offers good-cause exemptions, including alternate tests, which the state has expanded in number, and portfolios of classroom work, which districts have refined in part because of the lawsuit.

SUPERINTENDENT SALARY: Superintendent Kurt Browning is the state's highest-paid elected school district chief, according to the state Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Every year, the state sets pay rates for elected constitutional officers, including superintendents and School Board members, based on their county populations.

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Pasco County is the largest in Florida to still elect its superintendent of schools. Voters have rejected a move to an appointed leader when asked in past referendums.

As a result, Browning gets the highest paycheck, at $150,344. He refused his salary for the first year on the job, after his opponent accused him of double dipping on state pay because he would be drawing a pension from his time as elections supervisor and secretary of state while also working as superintendent.

After one year, Browning began collecting his pay, which was $137,835 at the time. He had been the only superintendent to not receive a salary.

The salary for Pasco School Board members this year is $41,329. That's about $3,000 less than the pay rate for board members in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

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