1. Pasco

Pasco County school enrollment jumps, with more students expected

Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel had 1,603 students attending on the first day of classes. It had expected 1,486 students.
Cypress Creek Middle-High School in Wesley Chapel had 1,603 students attending on the first day of classes. It had expected 1,486 students.
Published Aug. 15, 2017

Enrollment at Pasco County schools continued to surge for a fifth consecutive year, with 1,254 more students in attendance Monday than on the first day of classes a year ago.

District officials project that the numbers will rise by about another 550 students. In the past four years, enrollment rose by a combined 5,210 students, putting Pasco County among the state's fastest growing districts — a place it regularly held before the recession flattened growth.

The gains do not take place evenly across the county, though. Some west Pasco County schools, for instance, saw their rolls decrease by even more than anticipated. Sunray Elementary School, for example, opened with 71 fewer children than expected.

The schools serving the booming State Road 54 corridor, from Trinity to Wesley Chapel, shouldered most of the increase.

Brand new Bexley Elementary in Land O'Lakes started the year with 656 students, 29 more than projected with new registrations still occurring. The same held true for Cypress Creek Middle-High in Wesley Chapel, which debuted with 1,603 students rather than the 1,486 who were anticipated.

The openings of these new campuses did appear to ease crowding at nearby campuses as intended, but probably not for long.

Oakstead Elementary, for one, started the year 779 students, 303 below last year's first day. It had expected to lose just 203 students. Wiregrass Ranch High, meanwhile, opened with 2217 students, 261 fewer than a year ago. It was projected to lose 231.

Oakstead is now at capacity rather than above, whereas Wiregrass Ranch remains well above its built capacity.

By contrast, John Long Middle School was supposed to lose 381 students with the opening of Cypress Creek, but its enrollment dipped by only 322, so it already is trending against expectations. Mitchell High and Rushe Middle were right on target with district projections. Notably, though, the district anticipated Mitchell High's numbers to change by just 13 students.

Meanwhile, nearby high schools such as Anclote and Gulf saw little change from a year ago. Anclote, which opened a new advanced Cambridge program, started with 47 students fewer than the first day a year earlier.

Some parents have criticized the School Board and administration for redrawing attendance zone boundaries but not placing more students into schools that had high vacancies. County commissioners will decide at 1:30 p.m. whether to increase the local school impact fee on new homes to support future school construction made necessary by the added homes.

In other notable changes, the district's charter school student count increased by 335 students. One new charter opened with 11 children.

District officials plan to take another count after the fifth, tenth and twentieth days of school, as they monitor trends and consider changing teacher assignments to meet school needs. See a spreadsheet of first day attendance figures for more details.