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Pasco parents have their say on school rezoning

The school district plans to move about 1,000 students into different schools to ease crowding.

The approximately two dozen parents from the Wesley Chapel subdivision of Seven Oaks didn’t come close to filling the Pasco County School Board’s meeting room Tuesday, as the board prepared to hear input on a plan to reassign the entire subdivision to different schools because of campus crowding.

It was a pale imitation of the packed hall and overflowing emotions of the last time the board prepared to move hundreds of Wesley Chapel children into Cypress Creek Middle-High School, nearly three years earlier.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> East Pasco parents say district erred in school rezoning process

But that didn’t mean the Seven Oaks families cared any less, the handful of speakers advised board members.

“The last rezoning was not real pleasant,” said parent Mike Schulze, one of 10 people to participate in the public hearing. “The people of Seven Oaks have presented their concerns in a professional manner ... But don’t take that as lack of concern.”

He and others spoke passionately about their children’s education as critical to their future, and how taking them away from their schools and friends could hinder their success.

They noted Cypress Creek Middle-High sits miles farther from their homes than their current schools, Wiregrass Ranch High and John Long Middle. They spoke of how their neighborhood, spared from being rezoned into the Old Pasco Road complex in 2017, viewed the Wiregrass Ranch schools as integral to their community and not someplace easily walked away from.

They pleaded to have their children remain in their current schools, at least until they finish the highest grade level.

“I refuse to believe that my children are statistics,” parent Sandra Stankov said, exhorting the board to look beyond school capacity numbers to the real impact that a rezoning has.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Pasco parent concerns rise as plan advances to send their children to different schools

The request for a phase in was nothing new. The board had authorized such a plan for Sunlake High students reassigned to Cypress Creek in 2017, as parent Abhay Thorat reminded the board.

But when then-board member Steve Luikart pressed his colleagues to adopt the idea more broadly, the administration responded that the numbers couldn’t justify it.

This time around, the administration moved to meet the families halfway.

Before opening the hearing, superintendent Kurt Browning said that in addition to allowing rising seniors to finish at their current schools, he was recommending the same for rising juniors. Seniors would get bus transportation, but juniors would not.

The change would affect about 100 teens. But the superintendent said he could see the point of not wanting to disrupt the lives of juniors as they’re preparing college applications, completing academic programs and gaining leadership roles.

He didn’t take the same step for rising sophomores, or for middle school students. In order to stay put, he said, they must apply for school choice.

Related to that decision, Browning also told the families that he would not recommend resetting choice for the schools affected by new boundaries. District policies call for students attending a campus through choice to reapply for their seats after a rezoning, unless the board decides otherwise.

Browning said the numbers were so small as to have only a negligible effect. To some parents, though, even a dozen seats might mean the difference between remaining at their school or being forced out while someone who doesn’t even live in the zone gets to stay.

The parents asked for some additional consideration of their situation and their full phase-in request. Some asked for the district to just add on to their schools — something officials said would not fix the situation because there is no space to add more seats, just to replace portable ones.

Some challenged the district’s projections and wondered how long it might be before their homes are rezoned again because of continued rapid growth in the east Pasco area.

“I feel stranded right now,” parent Kiran Patel said. “I’m not able to move. I’m not able to take my kids where I want them to be.”

Board members thanked the Seven Oaks parents for their approach to the rezoning, and said they had explored the many options. They acknowledged how difficult these moves are for families, but suggested the state rules relating to building schools in advance of projected enrollment spikes ties their hands.

The law requires districts to have all the money needed for a project in the bank before it can begin, and it does not fund based on expected students. So it’s nearly impossible to catch up.

Still, board members said they would further consider the additional information provided during the hearing and leading up to their final vote on the boundaries.

That meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 19.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

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