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Pasco County schools to reset west-side attendance zones for 2018-19, superintendent says

Despite a tight time frame, the Pasco County School Board is making plans to revise its west-side middle and high school boundaries to take effect in the fall.

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the School Board on Tuesday that his staff is creating a proposed map, which he expected to become public by Feb. 23. He said the district will conduct a public workshop at 5 p.m. March 12 at Mitchell High School, where residents can view the recommendation, ask questions of staff and submit written comments.

The School Board has approved holding its own hearing on the item at 5 p.m. April 10. Speakers would receive 3 minutes to offer insights and ideas to the board, which would vote at a separate later meeting.

Although no specifics are available yet, "nothing is off the table" as the administration discusses options, planning director Chris Williams said.

With the goal of alleviating crowding at schools including Mitchell High and Seven Springs Middle, and filling seats in under-capacity campuses, the staff will be looking at ideas similar to those that came before an advisory committee and the board in 2017.

After several meetings, the board approved a rezoning that moved two communities from Mitchell and Seven Springs to River Ridge middle and high schools. About 55 students ended up switching schools.

A judge later voided the plan, though, finding the advisory committee violated state open meetings laws and the board did not do enough to cure the problem in its own deliberations. That action prompted the superintendent's decision to try again.

[Related coverage: Rezoning court case could cost Pasco school district close to half-million dollars]

Historically, the board has conducted its rezonings in the fall and winter, with students applying for choice afterward. This initiative will take place much later in the year, which some residents have already questioned.

Browning suggested that the district's new process can get the work done more quickly, still leaving room for choice before the school year ends.

"The school choice window would be extended for those kids" who are reassigned in the process," Browning said. "Any student impacted will have full access to any programs that are available."

At the same time, Browning said he has no plans for now to reset school choice for affected schools, as had been past practice.

"School choice is school choice," he said, differentiating between rezoning and open enrollment.

That move could set up the scenario where a student that lives in a school's zone might be sent elsewhere, while another who lives outside the zone but uses choice to attend could remain.

In 2017, west-side parents criticized the district for embarking on new boundaries without determining whether every student attending lived in the zones. Browning acknowledged the potential complaints that could emerge, but said the current stance is to let students on choice finish at their selected school, regardless of new maps.

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