The Pasco County School Board met for its regular meeting on Sept. 7 and highlighted two concerns regarding the rezoning of certain schools and the use of federal funding meant to help elementary and secondary schools within the county.

Superintendent Kurt Browning stated that the school board is planning to reopen Centennial Elementary School in Dade City and James M. Marlowe Elementary School in New Port Richey as science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM) magnet schools beginning in the 2022-23 school year. Accordingly, Browning added that the board is beginning the rezoning process and plans to communicate with potentially impacted families currently attending these schools regarding this timeline and process.

Students currently attending these schools will be prioritized to remain at these schools if they choose, Browning said. He announced that messages to parents should have been sent the afternoon of Sept. 7 following the school board meeting.

Due to the nature of the rezoning process, there are potential impacts for boundaries of other schools in the area, including rezoning areas from San Antonio Elementary School to Pasco Elementary School and Rodney B. Cox Elementary School in Dade City. Currently no students are impacted in those rezonings, Browning said.

Additionally, the board plans to formalize the boundaries for a new grade structure for students attending Hudson Primary Academy and Hudson Academy.

Proposed maps will be developed this month and a parent night workshop has been scheduled for Oct. 5 at James M. Marlowe Elementary School and Oct. 12 at Centennial Elementary School. A public hearing on the boundary proposal is planned for Nov. 16 with final school board action on Dec. 14.

Feedback on the proposed rezoning is welcome, Browning said, and the board will provide opportunities for families with children attending Marlowe and Centennial to express their interest in remaining at their schools in the 2022-23 year.

Browning also addressed funding concerns in regard to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief and the American Rescue Plan Act funding. The ESSER Fund was established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, state educational agencies will award subgrants to local educational agencies to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation.

So far, the board has received comments from the public over their confusion of federal funding and what Pasco’s school board has and hasn’t done with it. School districts, including Pasco, have not received any ARP money or ESSER II money, Browning said.

“We have, in fact, spent our ESSER I money,” Browning said, “and if there was a mask requirement it was because the state put that mask requirement on us, and we spent the majority of ESSER I during last school year when masks were required. Right now we will continue to follow the state’s protocol on masks.”

The Florida Department of Health announced a rule that school districts must allow parents the option of sending their kids to school without masks. Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-175 before schools started allowing parents the freedom to choose.

“We have submitted to the Florida Department of Education our budget and our plan on how we believe our ESSER II funds should be spent in Pasco,” Browning stated. “We have not been asked by the Florida Department of Education about a plan or a budget for ARP money. That is a good ways out. We will continue to meet the assurances that we’re required to on every grant, but I think it’s premature to start talking about whether there will or won’t be a mask mandate. I will assure you based on what I read and what I watch on TV there will not be a mask mandate that imposes a requirement for the grant. If there is, that’s a fight the state will take with the federal government, not this district.”

A significant amount of money was provided to local districts via the state’s Department of Education, Browning said. He explained that that money is primarily and purposefully used to remediate kids.

“I think it’s evident in our test scores when we saw a four point drop in our third grade Language Arts scores this year,” Browning said. “I continue to be grateful it was only 4% when I had counties, districts around the state that were dropping double digits.”

Browning credited the school district’s staff who “worked their tails off” in trying to ensure that Pasco’s students were being supported during the pandemic, whether last year they were in the classroom or learning virtually.

Browning said that any plans for ESSER II grants have to be in place so that the district can start moving in the direction of providing academic tutors in grade K-5 because that supports remediation and helping students get caught up because of the learning loss due to where the district found itself during COVID.

“We would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we did not have those funds in order to help support those students,” Browning concluded.