Proposed Bexley Elementary boundaries raise concerns

Parents raised concerns about potential impacts from proposed boundaries for Bexley Elementary at a Nov. 1 meeting at Oakstead Elementary School.

Parents raised questions about such issues as school choice, transportation and programming for the new school, which draws its name from a subdivision under construction off State Road 54, in Land O’ Lakes.

The new school, set to open in the fall, for the 2017-2018 school year, will provide relief for both Odessa and Oakstead elementary schools, which are operating well above capacity. Odessa is at 131 percent capacity, and Oakstead is at 144 percent. The proposed boundaries will also expand Lake Myrtle Elementary, an older school operating at about 80 percent capacity.

Some parents were dismayed at the likelihood their children will be rezoned to Lake Myrtle, a “B” rated school built in 1984.

This is what Bexley Elementary will look like upon its completion.(Courtesy of Pasco County Schools)

This is what Bexley Elementary will look like upon its completion.(Courtesy of Pasco County Schools)

“I know their school rating isn’t as high as Oakstead Elementary,” said Sarah Davis, whose daughter will attend Lake Myrtle. “I don’t know much about it, so all I can do is my research online, and since it’s not as great as a school, my concern is that she won’t get the help that she needs that’s she’s already getting.”

Dave Scanga, area superintendent for Central Pasco schools, said Lake Myrtle is “a great school.”

“It is an older building,” Scanga said, however, he added, “in terms of the traditions that Lake Myrtle has had, for a long time it’s always been top-notch.”

“I think all of our schools are good,” added Richard Tonello, planning supervisor for Pasco County Schools. “Maybe grades aren’t a reflection of the school. You go to any of our schools, you’re going to see a great group of teachers, and they’re going to look after your child.”

Other parents expressed frustration over Bexley’s current unknowns, such as staffing dynamics and school schedule.

Scanga said potential teachers will be identified in March and April, after a new principal is named in December and assumes duties in February.

“A lot will happen once we get to February, and then it’s the (principal’s) job to let them play out the rest of the hiring and selection.”

He added: “As we get closer to the start of school, there will be all sorts of opportunities for people to come in, see the building and meet the people that are going to be in the building, too.”

Betsy Kuhn, assistant superintendent Pasco County Schools, anticipates several teachers from both Odessa and Oakstead to be reassigned to Bexley.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity for teachers to come in to open a new school, so we typically have a lot of interest,” Kuhn said.

“I think you’ll have a lot of interest from teachers outside our system, in our system, both experienced and new,” she added.

Sorting out transportation issues, too, was another focus of the hour-long meeting.

Scanga said bus routes will be reconfigured to accommodate the new school.

The Pasco County School Board provides free transportation to and from school for students who live more than 2 miles away from school.

Students who are selected to choose a particular school through open enrollment must provide their own transportation.

Pasco County’s school choice open enrollment period runs from Feb. 1 to March 1, for the 2017-2018 school year. Final determinations are expected around April or May. Extenuating circumstances and family hardships will also be considered, school officials said.

For example, students entering the fifth grade may have a greater chance to remain at their current school depending on the influx of school choice requests.

“It’s hard to make a decision until they know exactly how many students are requested,” said Chris Williams, planning services director for Pasco County Schools. “In every past experience, we’ve been able to accommodate fifth graders.”

“It’s a process we go through…to try to accommodate as much as we can,” he added.

Scanga said he understands the frustration from parents, especially those who deliberately moved to a particular community for their children to attend a certain school.

“School rezoning always catches many people off guard,” said Scanga, “and also in terms of not getting what we had planned for, or hoped for.”

Scanga also noted: “One of the challenges we have—and it’s unique—is just how fast the growth is happening right here on the 54 corridor. We’re like ground zero. Much of Florida, like much of the country, just doesn’t have this challenge…of how do we continually provide the best education to children in the best facility possible.”

Last month, a boundary committee recommended boundaries for Bexley Elementary.

The committee selected an option that would include Ballantrae, Suncoast Meadows, Suncoast Pointe, Hayman/Fuentes, Meadowbrook/Sierra Pines, and all of Bexley, which are east of the Suncoast Parkway.

Bexley Elementary also would include Swan View Townhomes, Ivy Lake Estates and Toscano at Suncoast, which are west of the Suncoast Parkway.

At nearly 96,000 square feet, the new school will have a capacity of 878 students, and is expected to have 706 students.

Oakstead, which had 1,095 enrolled students is expected to have 765 students, under the proposed boundaries. Odessa, which had 1,000 students, is expected to have 780, and Lake Myrtle, which had 587 students, is expected to have 616.

Students that would be shifting from Oakstead to Lake Myrtle live in these areas: Morsani, Woodville Palms, Cambridge/Lake Linda, Oakstead Area South, Cypress Cove/Village on the Pond, Meadowview/Country Close and Foxwood/Lake Heron.

The school board is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on the proposed boundaries on Dec. 20 and its second public hearing on Jan. 17, when it is expected to make the final decision on the issue.

While the committee recommends the boundaries, the Pasco County School Board has the final word on where the lines should be drawn.

Boundary guidelines are based on a number of factors, including future growth and capacity, socio-economic balance, school feeder patterns, and transportation.

“All of these guidelines we use, it’s a little bit of a balancing act,” Tonello said.

Bexley Elementary is the first of several schools (additional elementary schools, middle school and high school) planned within the Bexley development.

When those schools are built depends on the amount of growth within the community, as well as the amount of capital funding available, Williams said.

He noted the school district has accumulated nearly $500 million in debt capital, a hurdle in building new schools.

“One of the things that we struggle with as a district is our capital funding,” Williams said. “We are constrained—we can’t always build where we want to because of funding. It might mean adding a classroom wing at an existing school.”

Construction costs for Bexley Elementary total about $20 million.

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Published November 9, 2016

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