Pasco public school population gains beating estimates

LAND O’ LAKES — Enrollment in Pasco County schools is growing faster than the school district anticipated and officials said that’s creating challenges for principals and their staffs.

“I don’t think two or three years ago any of us would think we would have that kind of growth that quick,” school board member Allen Altman said Tuesday at a board meeting.

School started Aug. 19 and as of the 10-day count Friday the district reported 63,421 students, which is up 1,381 from the 10th day a year ago.

High schools are the biggest growth area, accounting for 546 of those additional students as nine of the 13 high schools reported increased enrollment. Elementary schools are up 367 students, middle schools up 39, education centers up 10 and charter schools up 419.

Board member Alison Crumbley said the dramatic high school growth especially was a surprise.

“Is there a theory on that?” she said.

Superintendent Kurt Browning didn’t have one.

“I can’t put my finger directly on why we are seeing those high school numbers, but it’s across the board,” he said.

Wesley Chapel High saw the greatest growth among high schools, adding 191 students and giving it a total of 1,483. Wiregrass Ranch High in Wesley Chapel, already the county’s largest high school, added 178 students, bringing its total to 2,090.

Oakstead Elementary, the largest elementary school, also is among the fastest growing, adding 103 students over last year, bringing its enrollment to 1,071.

Browning said adjustments will have to be made, which could mean shifting students and teachers around, but the district will wait until the 20-day count before making any decisions. Enrollment numbers are usually more firm 20 days into the school year.

As part of a cost-savings effort, the school board decided not to meet state-mandated class-size restrictions this year, but Browning said an effort still will be made to “get as close to class size as we possibly can.”

Rapid enrollment growth used to be typical in Pasco County schools, but that came to a halt when the economy began to decline about six or seven years ago. Now the housing market is starting to pick up again, said board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, who is a real estate agent.

“There is nothing but growth going on,” she said.

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