LAND O’LAKES — Despite some parents’ request for reconsideration, the Pasco County School Board unanimously approved sending nearly 1,000 students from the Seven Oaks subdivision of Wesley Chapel to new schools in the fall.
Unlike in past years, the board agreed to allow rising juniors to remain at their current campus, Wiregrass Ranch High, so long as they provide their own transportation. It continued its longstanding practice of permitting rising seniors to complete their schooling without making a move.
Board members did not take the further step of letting rising sophomores stay at Wiregrass Ranch, as some parents asked for.
“We are a growing county, and unfortunately that gives us the responsibility to ensure the schools can meet the numbers,” board member Cynthia Armstrong said. “The goal is to reduce the numbers at Wiregrass Ranch.”
Board member Megan Harding said she was taken aback by the crowding in the cafeteria and hallways at Wiregrass Ranch, as well as the large number of portables there. She said moving students into the newly constructed buildings at Cypress Creek Middle-High will help.
“Learning in an overcrowded school as well as teaching in an overcrowded classroom isn’t best for students either,” Harding said. “If we don’t address this situation now it’s only going to get worse.”
Board members reminded families that they can apply for school choice back into Wiregrass Ranch and John Long Middle if they want, for the possibility to remain. The board held a public hearing on the rezoning two weeks earlier, and received hundreds of pages of emails and other written comments on the proposal, before its formal vote.
SCHOOL DAYS: Bolstered by another year’s successful Veterans Day celebration, Pasco County school district officials recommended that students continue to attend classes on the holiday in 2021 — despite the handful of callers who complained that the schools should close to honor those who served.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said the annual event, including a web-cast ceremony held at Wesley Chapel High School’s performing arts center, highlights the sacrifices that soldiers have made for their country. Students who take the day off might not learn about the reason for Veterans Day, he said, but those who participate can learn more about why we honor veterans.
The School Board continued the tradition with its vote on the 2020-21 calendar Tuesday.
Among the other highlights, students and staff continue to receive a week off (Nov. 23-27) for Thanksgiving, with the understanding that the first two days of the week could be used as hurricane makeup days if needed.
Holding classes for just a couple of days in that week proved difficult in the past, as both students and employees had higher absences as they traveled to their families for the Thursday holiday.
Other key dates on the calendar are:
Aug. 10, 2020 — First day for students
Dec. 21 - Jan. 5, 2021 — Winter break
March 15-19 — Spring break
May 26 — Last day for students
June 2-6 — High school graduations
The district also would have several days off for other holidays and teacher planning days.
CONTRACT DEAL: Pasco County’s school-related employees, such as classroom assistants and school bus drivers, reached a tentative contract agreement late Monday with the school district that would give everyone a 3.25 percent raise, with some categories of workers getting even bigger bumps.
Instructional assistants, data entry operators, licensed professional nurses, occupational therapist assistants and physical therapy assistants would be moved up a level in their job classification, and get more pay as a result.
“We accomplished what we needed to accomplish,” said Jim Ciadella, United School Employees of Pasco chief operating officer and lead negotiator. “We feel good about that. ... We have a fair contract.”
With this deal now set for a ratification vote, the sides will turn their attention to the more contentious teacher contract.
Assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said the district expects to offer a similar deal of around 3.25 percent to the teachers. But it also wants to look at other ways to get the $15 million onto the table that an alternate class schedule, which teachers have rejected, would provide.
“Relying on state funds is not going to get us there,” he said. “The district is still interested in looking at some funding models to allow us to gain some ground.”
This sides have not yet scheduled their next instructional bargaining session.
SUBSTITUTE PAY RAISE: With several of its schools struggling to fill substitute teacher spots, the Pasco County school district is looking to pay $5 to $15 more per day.
“Guest teachers” with only a high school diploma would make $75 a day, up from $65, while others with degrees would earn $80. Long-term substitutes would make $100 daily.
The need is clear, assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said, as the district-wide substitute fill rate has declined to about 75 percent.
Part of the problem, Shibley suggested, is that neighboring school districts have paid better.
Pasco’s human resources staff crafted a wage rate “so we’re at the very least competitive,” Shibley said.
The raises would cost about $400,000 through the end of the fiscal year, according to the district HR department. Shibley said the money is included in the administration’s budget for salary increases, and would not negatively impact the amounts being offered to full-time teachers and school-related personnel through collective bargaining.
“We’re still going to honor the proposals that we’ve put out there to the union,” he said. “And anything we can do to improve those we will continue to do.”