With Cypress Creek Middle School scheduled to open separately from the existing high school in August of 2020, Pasco County is about to tackle the difficult job of drawing new school attendance boundaries again. But, Pasco Schools superintendent Kurt Browning has his fingers crossed that things won’t be nearly as tough as they were in 2016.
They couldn’t be worse, right?
In Wesley Chapel, the process was contentious and exhausting, as families argued over various options and how best to alleviate the overcrowding at the area’s existing schools while filling the classrooms at Cypress Creek Middle/High, which was opening the following year.
On the west side of the county, it was even worse, as the boundaries for Mitchell and Anclote high schools ended up in court.
Browning says this time around, things will be different.
In 2016, a School Boundary Committee (SBC) made up of parents, district staff and school administrators was formed to help define the new boundaries. But this fall, the plans will be the sole responsibility of the District staff. “I’ve done away with that committee, and now it’s a District-driven process,” Browning says.
Gone are the community workshops from the last rezoning, which resulted in a packed gymnasium, or two, of angry parents. Instead, Browning says Chapter 120 of the Florida Statutes will be followed.
“The irony is that under Chapter 120, there are no opportunities early on for community involvement in this process,” Browning says. “We got dinged because we were not following Chapter 120, so what we did is we said ‘Fine, we’ll follow Chapter 120.’”
That process is more “sterile,” Browning says.
District staff, led by planning director Chris Williams, will come up with a new map of boundaries for high schools and middle schools, with data to support those maps.
Chapter 120 does still allow for public comment, however. And, on Monday, October 7, 5 p.m.-8 p.m., in the Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) gymnasium, area residents will have the opportunity to view the maps and ask questions of District staff. They also will be allowed to offer opinions, either at the meeting or online.
Browning says his staff will read every question and comment. Some could lead to changes or adjustments, and once finalized, there will be a public hearing before the Pasco School Board on Tuesday, November 5.
That will be the last time the public will have an opportunity to voice any opinions or concerns, as on Tuesday, November 19, the School Board will make its final decision.
A Little Contentious History
In 2016, the SBC’s recommendation of Option 20, which rezoned the bulk of the students living in Seven Oaks to Cypress Creek, was rejected by Browning, setting off a long dispute.
As a result of Seven Oaks being spared back then, however, Browning says it is likely that the new maps, which will soon be revealed, will rezone much of Seven Oaks.
“I said last time there will come a day, sooner than later, that Seven Oaks will have to be looked at, and now is that time,” Browning says. “We have to look to get those numbers down at John Long Middle School and Wiregrass Ranch High, and the most logical place to do that is Seven Oaks.”
While the idea of sending their kids to different schools further away ruffled feathers last time, Browning doesn’t see the same discord this time around.
“I don’t think it will be as contentious as (2016),” he says. “You know, they were going into an unknown and even the students who got rezoned were going to a brand new high school that was coming up out of the ground,” Browning said. “There wasn’t any track record. Now we have two years under our belt at Cypress Creek Middle High and they’re doing wonderfully well. It’s a great administration, great kids, great teachers and the academics are solid. I think it will be easier from that perspective.”
Even after redrawing the boundaries to relieve overcrowding, it is likely that some schools will remain at or above capacity. Browning says the county doesn’t have enough money to build schools fast enough to accommodate the growth in Wesley Chapel.
Based on enrollment numbers that average the first 20 days of the current school year, 11 of the 14 Wesley Chapel schools are already over capacity.
“Even when we rezone kids out of Wiregrass Ranch and John Long Middle with this rezoning, those schools are still going to be at, or near, capacity,” he says.
This year, Wiregrass Ranch High is at 139 percent of capacity, and John Long Middle School is at 119 percent.
Cypress Creek Middle High currently has 2,100 students, but nearly half of those will be moving to the new 1,600-seat middle school.
The middle school will then be able to absorb roughly 600 additional students without exceeding capacity. And, according to Browning, Cypress Creek High, which has a capacity of 2,090 students, will be able to take 800 new students from other high schools and those graduating from local middle schools and still remain at or under capacity.
More help could be on the way, too. A new magnet high school is on the horizon for 2022 at the corner of Keifer Rd. and Curley Rd. north of WaterGrasss, which Browning says will draw students from Pasco, Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass Ranch high schools.
Until then, while the new middle school will provide some relief, overcrowding will continue to be a way of life in this bustling area.