Pasco County school district officials spent much of Tuesday defending their actions in their recent adoption of new attendance zones for west-side middle and high schools.
7 Months Ago
7 Months Ago
7 Months Ago
They faced tough questions from lawyer Robert Stines, who represented several Longleaf parents who allege the district did not follow proper rule-making procedures when redrawing the maps.
Stines grilled district planning director Chris Williams, who oversaw the process, for using the term “rule making” when sending out notices and speaking about the rezoning, yet not following the laws set forth for such a process.
Williams said he was not familiar with the law or district policy, and was following the district’s longstanding model for setting boundaries.
“We just used the same notification we’ve used in the past,” Williams said during questioning.
Stines questioned Williams and others to demonstrate that the district did not publish cost estimates associated with the rezoning, did not set clear guidelines for residents to deal with the rezoning advisory committees and did not make public all the documentation used in the decision-making.
Superintendent Kurt Browning pushed back against Stines’ premise that the district had violated the rule-making statute, which was the heart of the parents' case.
Browning said he never considered student assignment to fall under those guidelines.
“There is a section in [Florida Statutes] 1001.41 that is very clear and it’s specific. And I read that with specificity that I had the responsibility and the obligation to make a recommendation to the school board to assign students to schools,” Browning said.
The district has argued that the district’s powers to assign students is separate from its authority to set rules to implement state policies and procedures.
Browning also addressed the request by plaintiff James Stanley to have a workshop, as set forth the rule-making law. He said he did not see the need, especially given that the query came three days before the School Board’s first public hearing.
That was months after the district had started the rezoning process, and had conducted four committee meetings, one parent meeting and several board meetings where parents spoke out.
“It wasn’t necessary to pause the process,” Browning said.
Earlier in the day, parent Kristi Sims, an assistant county attorney, testified that she believed the district needed to have followed the rule-making law. She said she had hoped to use her influence with district officials to convince them of that, either by speaking with them privately or at a board meeting, but was not able to be heard.
Sims and others contended that parents did not have adequate opportunity to address the pending changes, or to understand the decisions being made. Sims, who was not a plaintiff in the case, called the district’s effort to have public participation “completely illusory.”
District officials and lawyers used much of their time to counter that image, saying that many parents asked detailed questions and got answers, and all the gathered information was added to the record for the School Board to consider.
Tuesday marked the second and final day of the parents’ procedural challenge. Judge D.R. Alexander asked for a transcript of the proceedings, and for written findings from the lawyers within 10 days of receiving the transcript.
He said he intended to rule within 30 days of getting the transcript.
Plaintiff Stanley said he was optimistic of the outcome.
“I think we made it very clear that the process was flawed,” Stanley said after the hearing. “If the world makes sense and logic prevails, the court can draw no other opinion except this process did not follow the law or School Board guidelines. Consequently, they should have to start over.”
District officials declined to comment.
A second hearing on the same issues in an east-side rezoning is scheduled for March 15-16.
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