Many readers will be getting their Wesley Chapel edition of the Neighborhood News today, and will see a story on the front page about the School Boundary Committee (SBC) choosing Option 20 for the new school zones for Wesley Chapel.
Well…things have changed since our deadline.
After months of meetings by the SBC, including a parent townhall where more than 1,000 residents showed up to have their voices heard, and a reversal by the SBC in choose Option 20 instead of it’s original choice of Option 12, Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning has stepped in and said nope, we’re going with Option 13.
According to Browning, the SBC did not meet the most important goals of easing overcrowding at Wiregrass Ranch in the least disruptive way.
So now, the Pasco County School Board meeting on Tuesday will be, most likely, craaaazzzyyy.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m., and usually takes an hour. But Tuesday, there will be parents from three different rezoning groups from different parts of the county speaking, and each group gets an hour. Each speaker is allotted two minutes, maybe three.
Those with interest in the Wesley Chapel rezoning will speak second, or around 7 p.m.
Another meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17, where the School Board will again hear from parents, and then vote on the new school boundaries immediately afterwards.
For Wesley Chapel, that will essentially be a vote between the Browning-recommended Option 13, and the SBC-recommended Option 20. (Option 12, the original SBC choice, remains off the table).
Option 20 would have rezoned Seven Oaks, which would have been on the block again for rezoning once Cypress Creek Middle School is built, anywhere from 4-7 years from now.
“I don’t want to rezone Seven Oaks twice in as few as four years,” Browning wrote in a letter to parents. “If we adopted map proposal 20, some students could attend four different schools in their secondary years. They could conceivably start 6th grade at John Long Middle School, move to Weightman Middle School by 8th grade, start 9th grade at Wesley Chapel High School, and be moved to Cypress Creek High School before graduation.”
Browning also wrote that with the “least disruption in mind”, he decided to overrule the SBC and instead recommend Option 13 to the school board. Option 13 does not rezone Seven Oaks, but does move students in Meadow Pointe IV and Country Walk from their current schools of John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High to Weightman Middle and Wesley Chapel High.
“Under option 13, the projected average daily membership for Wiregrass Ranch High School will decrease after the seniors graduate in 2017,” Browning wrote. “Projected enrollment goes down to 2,124 in 2018 and 1,956 in 2019.”
Wiregrass Ranch currently has 2,495 enrolled students, and 2,658 boundary students, and is at 163 percent of capacity.
“We are committed to getting the Cypress Creek middle school built as soon as possible, hopefully in five years,” Browning continued in his letter. “If we are successful convincing the county commission to increase impact fees on new homes for schools, we believe we’re in a very good position to be able to fund the middle school and build it within five years; without it, we will have more difficult decisions to make in the near future.”
So to summarize: Option 12 was chosen, then discarded for Option 20, which was then shelved for Option 13.
The parents in support of Option 20, the final choice by SBC, were large in number and have lit up Facebook with plenty of anger.
They will have an opportunity to persuade the board to ignore Browning’s recommendation.
Normally, there we’d say chances are slim.
But the way this process has played out, we’ll pass.
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com.
Here’s the story that appears in the current Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News:
School Boundary Committee’s About-Face Sets Wesley Chapel Ablaze…Again
With a smattering of black shirts with the crossed out number 12 — representing Option 12 — serving as a backdrop, the Pasco School Boundary Committee (SBC) surprised many in attendance and changed course on Dec. 2.
The SBC unanimously rejected its initial recommendation of Option 12 for new school zones for all three Wesley Chapel high schools in order to populate Cypress Creek Middle & High School off Old Pasco Rd., choosing instead Option 20 to pass on to the Pasco County School Board for final approval.
The vote wasn’t close, with 16 of the 21 voting members raising their hand for Option 20. Option 13 received five votes from the committee comprised of school principals, parents and county administrators, while Option 12 didn’t receive any.
While Option 12 didn’t rezone the Seven Oaks community, the SBC’s new option (20) did, leaving dozens of residents of Seven Oaks as incensed as the residents of Meadow Pointe and Union Park were about Option 12.
Option 20 will now be passed on to Superintendent Kurt Browning and his staff, and then to the School Board for public hearings at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, December 20, and Tuesday, January 17.
“Our neighborhood was saved,’’ said Union Park representative Tom McClanahan, who was supporting Options 13 or 20, neither of which rezoned his community and kept their kids going to John Long Middle School and Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH).
McClanahan had formed an alliance with Seven Oaks, as Option 13 didn’t rezone either of their neighborhoods. “We just wanted to come out against Option 12, that was the biggest issue,’’ he said. “I still think Option 13 makes more sense for the community, but 20 still makes sense for us.”
Parents can attend and mount a challenge to Option 20 with the upcoming board members, which Seven Oaks intends on doing. But Linda Cobbe, the District spokesperson, said Browning told her “he doesn’t have any intention of changing any decisions made by the committees on the new boundaries.”
The SBC’s 16-5-0 vote caused muffled rejoicing and a few silent high-fives from many of the 80 or so parents in attendance at the Wesley Chapel High (WCH) gymnasium.
Option 20 will keep Meadow Pointe III and IV, Country Walk and Union Park in their current feeder zone (Double Branch Elementary to John Long Middle to Wiregrass). While none of the SBC members said it had anything to do with their vote, the selection alleviates many parents’ fears of their kids being transported to school via Meadow Pointe Blvd. and S.R. 54, which was a prevalent theme of the Nov. 29 parent town hall that was attended by more than 1,000 people at WCH (photo above).
“I’m glad the feeder patterns stay the way they are,’’ said Michael Degennaro, who has a 9th grade daughter at WRH. “Every other option broke them up. This keeps the communities intact. Really was no reason to take (us out). There’s 1,600 of us vs. 700 (in Seven Oaks). You displace too many students (with Option 12).”
Residents of the Seven Oaks community, some of whom were in attendance, were not as happy. Students will now be zoned to attend Thomas E. Weightman Middle School and WCH, except for current juniors at WRH, who will be grandfathered in to graduate at the school they attended for three years.
Seven Oaks Voice, the group that has been representing the community during the process, immediately scheduled a number of meetings to formulate a response, including one on Dec. 15 (a week after we went to press with this issue), where local media were invited to attend. We’ll update you on that meeting in our next issue.
Option 20 was originally among the final three choices for the SBC, but was the first one dismissed for two reasons — it didn’t provide as much relief to the overcrowded schools as did Option 12, and it rezoned Seven Oaks, which could need to be rezoned again in four years.
But, some eagle-eyed Meadow Pointe residents disputed the attendance numbers. Kevin Croswell, representing Meadow Pointe III, spoke at a School Board meeting on Nov. 15, saying the original enrollment numbers presented by the county to the SBC in Option 20 were incorrect. Their numbers — which turned out to be the correct numbers and were later adjusted by the district staff — showed that Option 20 offered almost the same relief as Option 12.
“I think certainly the numbers helped,’’ said Chris Williams, the school district’s director of planning. “We corrected those numbers…and basically 20 became comparable to 12.”
The possibility of rezoning Seven Oaks again in four years when a new middle school is built on Old Pasco Rd. next to the new Cypress Creek Middle & High School, seemed to be less of a sticking point.
The new middle school also could be built 6-7 years or longer down the road, said Williams, depending upon how quickly the money, raised from impact fees, becomes available. That longer timeline seemed to cause a few SBC members to have less of a concern about “double-dipping” Seven Oaks in the rezoning pool, and to take a closer look at Option 20.
“It’s not about the community (of Seven Oaks), it’s about keeping the schools together and keeping the integrity of the feeder pattern schools together, that’s the most important thing,’’ said SBC member and Seven Oaks resident Denise Nicholas, who also is the Pasco County Council PTA (PCCPTA) president.
“I did not vote for 20, because I truly don’t believe in rezoning twice,’’ Nicholas added. “I don’t think it’s fair for any community, whether it be Seven Oaks, Meadow Pointe, Union Park, Stagecoach, whoever, to be double-dipped and to have to be moved twice.”
Many SBC members attended the Nov. 29 town hall meeting at WCH, where the large crowd made clear its disdain for Option 12.
WCH, a C-rated school in 2015 after four straight years as a B school, also took a bit of a beating throughout the town hall, as did Weightman, which is a B school, while WRH is a B and Long MS is an A.
Most in attendance at the town hall meeting seemed to favor Option 20, with one parent telling the panel that a petition with more than 1,100 signatures backing that option already had been sent to the School Board.
The biggest loser at the town hall? S.R. 54.
“It’s horrible. It’s horrendous. It’s dangerous,’’ said one speaker.
A large majority of the supporters cited traffic as their main concern, since Option 20 will keep their students from having to be transported up Meadow Pointe Blvd., and then across S.R. 54, in order to get to WCH.
No one wants to travel on S.R. 54, especially considering a widening project right in front where 54 crosses Meadow Pointe Blvd. begins in 2017.
Supporters of Options 13 and 20 were emboldened by a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) review by Joel Provenzano.
A permits review manager and traffic engineering specialist for FDOT, Provenzano concluded that, “the best traffic pattern for the state roads (by far) is Option 20.”
Provenzano’s professional opinion was debated at the town hall, with some suggesting it was just that — an opinion. No official study (Provenzano’s study was considered a courtesy) has been completed by FDOT concerning the school options and the traffic patterns.
Some Seven Oaks parents said their path to WCH, north on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and east of S.R. 54, also would be fraught with danger. Nicholas claims the intersection of BBD and S.R. 54 has proven more dangerous than the one at Meadow Pointe Blvd. and S.R. 54.
Williams said the county typically doesn’t consult with FDOT — or the Pasco Fire Department or Sheriff’s Office — when drawing its school zones.
The Multi-Student Issue
Another concern voiced at the town hall came from parents with two children in the same school. One parent who has two children in the band at WRH said the rezoning would be a logistical nightmare, since her senior-to-be would allowed to stay under grandfathering rules but her junior-to-be would be moved to WCH under Option 12.
This is a legitimate concern echoed by a number of parents during the night. Students who will be seniors next year don’t have to change schools, but their siblings who are incoming freshman or rising sophomores or juniors will have to.
“Friday night is going to be very hard,’’ the mom said, as she will have one student performing in band at WRH while the other is performing at the same time at WCH.
Williams suggested at the Dec. 2 meeting that parents use school choice as the best option to keep their kids together, although there are no guarantees.
A number of band and athletic parents, as well as a few band members themselves, weren’t happy about the possibility of changing schools.
Citing scholarship offers and exposure, they argued that leaving a band at WRH that finished 4th in the state for a new band that likely will not be as good was detrimental to their college hopes.
One parent was distraught that her daughter had taken all of the prerequisites for WRH’s culinary program, and now would have to attend a school that didn’t have one. A WCH student was concerned that the sign language courses she had been hoping to take would not be offered at Cypress Creek. Both were also told to look into school choice.
Eva Cooper of Meadow Pointe III, who has a sophomore and a senior at WRH, lobbied for Option 20 because she claims Option 12 only kept six communities together, while Option 20 didn’t split up any.
She asked why the SBC had originally decided to keep the Seven Oaks community intact at WRH, where 19 percent of the school’s students live, while splitting up Meadow Pointe, which has 46 percent of WRH’s students.
“Why are we accommodating so few, and affecting so many?,’’ she asked.
Another Option 20 supporter and Country Walk resident, Tina Dosal, submitted a proposal based on maintaining the Double Branch Elementary feeder pattern. Maintaining feeder programs is one of the considerations the SBC was tasked with, but Dosal was one of the few to actually make the feeder argument.
The panel at the town hall was comprised of Williams (the director of planning), WCH principal Carin Hetzler-Nettles, area superintendent for east county Dr. Monica Isle, Ed.D, strategic initiatives and allocations program manager Kimberly Poe, area superintendent for central county Dr. David Scanga, Ed.D., assistant superintendent for support services Elizabeth Kuhn, director of transportation Gary Sawyer and county athletic director Matt Wicks.