Board votes for second hearing on Pasco schools rezoning

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Some Pasco County schools are over capacity, but easing the crowding could mean moving students around between different schools, some, several miles farther away from home.

Tuesday night, the school board held the first of two public hearings on the issue. The comments and discussion spanned nearly three hours with more than 100 people signed up to share their concerns, criticism and ideas.

There were so many, the board had to limit comments to 90 second each to stay on time. Despite mostly negative feedback, the board voted 4-1 to move forward with a second hearing.

Overcrowding has been a problem for years at some east and west side side schools like J.W. Mitchell High School and Wiregrass High School. In fact, Wiregrass is 800 students over capacity and has been on 10 period days for 2 years now.

The solution, the board believes, is rezoning the school boundaries and moving students from the over capacity schools to the lower capacity schools. It's a balancing act between keeping students comfortable where they are and responding to population growth from new housing development.

58 people, including young kids, signed up to speak about the west side schools which includes JW Mitchell and Seven Springs Middle School. The majority urged the board to go with map 11, which the boundary committee rejected.

"One, why are we being separated from our friends in Fairway Springs?" asked 6th grader Jonas Goldstein, "and two, why are are we being kicked out of our school for construction in Asturia?"

"I would like to point out that many students are using false addresses in order to attend both Seven Springs Middle School and Mitchell High School," said student Morgan Weldon. "Before you rezone district 12, I ask that you verify some of these addresses."

"You have a responsibility to us and to them to get this right and not let a flawed an subjective process disrupt their education," said parent Christina Snyder.

All five board members addressed the room after comments ended. Steve Luikhart said he still has concerns about what is best for students.

"The issue I have just reviewed is more important to me than the lines in the sand," Luikhart said. "At this time, I just feel that i can't support any of the maps at this time."

His comment was met with thunderous applause inside the board room and in the hallway.

Board member Cynthia Armstrong said, "This is a tough decision for us up here because no one likes to have their kids moved. Understand when we make this vote, we make it very seriously."

While the board expressed concern for the children's well-being, ultimately, they voted 4-to-1 to move forward with second hearings on rezoning the west side and east side schools with the Superintendent Kurt Browning's recommendations.

Nothing is official but these plans are one step closer to reality. The second hearings and final votes are scheduled for January 17.