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Pasco school officials move to ensure guidelines are met for rules changes

Superin-tendent Kurt Browning had the meeting rescheduled.
Superin-tendent Kurt Browning had the meeting rescheduled.
Published Apr. 12, 2017

LAND O'LAKES — Just before opening a public hearing April 4 on its proposed Code of Student Conduct revisions, Pasco County School District officials pulled the plug.

The public notice for the session didn't strictly meet statutory guidelines for rule making, superintendent Kurt Browning said. He asked staffers to revamp the notification and rescheduled the hearing for April 18.

Driving the decision were two recent challenges to the School Board's attendance zone revisions, which Browning has long contended are not even subject to state rule-making laws.

Parents from both east and west Pasco contended that the district did not appropriately notify the public of its plans, provide staff to answer questions from affected residents, or offer sufficient time for the community to have meaningful input.

Those accusations got the administration thinking about ensuring that it acts more precisely when it considers rule changes, Browning said.

"I do not necessarily want to repeat what we came out of with the rezoning," he said, referring to the hours-long administrative hearings, with decisions still pending. "We need to make sure we are complying with Florida law."

When it comes to policies and rules, "we want to make sure everything is in line," School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso added, again stressing that he does not include student assignment in that category.

The changes could lead to more public input.

Future notifications of proposed changes would include the contact information of district administrators who are assigned to answer any questions about the proposals. With that availability, Alfonso said, the district could handle many concerns early on.

If anyone requests a workshop, the district could either hold one with staff — similar to the way the state Department of Transportation holds workshops on proposed road changes — or determine that all issues were handled through other communication. (Browning denied a workshop request in the rezoning case after the School Board already had voted on the plans.)

The board then would hold two public hearings, as it has in the past.

But in another change, the board would not vote until a date after the second hearing, Browning said. That way, the district would have time to deal with any amendments deemed necessary from ideas raised at the second hearing.

Alfonso told board members the proposed model would go beyond what the state statute requires. Strict compliance with the law on rule making could lead to less public input, he suggested, because it calls for notice, a workshop and board action.

Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd reminded the board that revamping procedures will not make complaints go away.

"Some of the things we have done have allowed for more substantive community input," Gadd said. "I don't think we should accept that would necessarily mean that any more or any less people would be unhappy with us."

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Parents involved with the rezoning challenges scoffed at the district's actions.

They suggested it seemed officials were trying to tiptoe through a minefield of actions from the rezoning, all but admitting they acted incorrectly but claiming the law did not apply to the one contested area.

"Who do they think they are kidding?" west Pasco plaintiff Jim Stanley said via Facebook.

"Sounds like an admission that they broke the laws to me," added east county plaintiff James Darby. "The judge has to rule in our favor."

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

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