New Pasco schools open, legal challenges over re-zoning continue

By Sara Belsole and Leah Masuda, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Monday, August 14, 2017, 5:11 PM EDT

Every Bay area school district is back in session. 

The last two counties to start classes in the Bay area, Pasco and Hernando, welcomed students back to classes this morning. 

The Pasco school district opened new schools this year to help deal with over crowding. 

The new Cypress Creek Middle-High School is welcoming students to a brand new campus today in Wesley Chapel. It is the only combined middle and high school in Pasco, combining sixth through 11th grades. 

School officials say its the first step to alleviating overcrowding. 

The district rezoned students out of Wiregrass Ranch High School and John Long Middle School for this new school with a plan approved in January

Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning said Long Middle was built for 1,300 students but had more than 1,800 last school year. 

The new school also will make for a smoother day for students as to help with overcrowding in the past, the district had to add more periods in the day.

"Wiregrass Ranch High had been on a 10-period day for the last two years," said Browning. "We have been able to get them off of a 10-period day. I am not as hopeful that we may not see a ten period day again sooner rather than later until we can get the middle school built on the Cypress Creek Campus."

For many students, the changes inspired mixed emotions.

“He was kind of excited, but at the same time he felt like he wanted to stay at the same school," said parent, Diane Stancil, talking about her son's feelings about being moved this year from Wesley Chapel High School to Cypress Creek Middle/High.

This combined middle and high school is just a temporary fix. 

Bexley Elementary in Land O'Lakes also opened its brand-new doors to students moved from different schools on Monday.

The shuffling around of students across the county has faced its share of legal challenges. Since the rezoning plan was approved, the district has been hit with two lawsuits from parents.

A judge ruled in the districts' favor in both instances.

“He came back and said the district did provide enough notice, there were ample opportunities for parents to provide input, and the board, the superintendent, and the district as a whole acted appropriately," said Browning.

Another suit regarding an alleged Sunshine Law violation is currently ongoing.

In the meantime, Browning said that while new boundaries are helping to equalize student populations, more work needs to be done. He said he plans on the county approving higher impact fees in the next three years. Funds raised from those fees will be used to build a new middle school on Cypress Creek school property.

The current facility will then become Cypress Creek High School.