Francisco Contreras admits he had “a lot of bad history” when he was young.
Kicked out of school at age 14, he began working in the fields as a migrant laborer, but yearned for something better.
So, possessing nothing more than a sixth-grade education, Contreras turned to Moore-Mickens Education Center in Dade City, which has a program aimed at migrant workers. Soon he was a graduate and able to pursue certification in a vocational field.
“They were the only people who gave me a chance and believed in me,” Contreras told the Pasco County School Board on Tuesday.
Contreras joined several speakers who urged the board to rethink a proposal to move the programs offered at Moore-Mickens to other locations, such as the campus of Pasco High School.
District officials have cited such reasons as cost-cutting needed to address a projected $23 million budget deficit and safety issues related to an anticipated increase in freight-rail traffic on the railroad tracks near the school’s entrance.
The speakers, though, argued that the school’s historical significance in Dade City, along with the countless students who benefited from its educational offerings, should overrule those concerns.
“It is something this community needs and I would hate to see it close,” said Willie Broner, a 1966 graduate of the former Mickens High School.
The loyalty to Moore-Mickens is so great in Dade City that the city commission called a special meeting Monday night and passed a resolution in support of the school. City Manager Billy Poe presented the resolution to the school board Tuesday.
Moore-Mickens’ offerings include adult education, a Cyesis program for pregnant teenagers and an early childhood education program for child-care workers.
Superintendent Kurt Browning said no decision on the school’s future has been made. He also sought to quell rumors that the district planned to raze the buildings. Regardless of what happens with the educational programs, the facility will remain intact and the district will seek the community’s input about how it might be used in the future, he said.
“We are not bulldozing Mickens,” Browning assured the group.
The school is a landmark in Dade City’s African-American community, tracing its roots to Moore Elementary and Mickens High School, which were all-black schools in the decades before integration.
Most speakers limited their comments to praising the school, but Maudrienne Hanner of Dade City also touched on race and whether that factored into what the school district is considering.
“There is tension and we believe it’s based on race because we’ve steadily seen our heritage ripped apart, torn down, destroyed,” Hanner said.
Assistant Superintendent Ray Gadd said race played no role.
Gadd also said none of the programs will be eliminated and that staff would move with them. One possibility is placing some programs, including Cyesis, at Pasco High.
Browning said that would provide the Moore-Mickens students more opportunities, because they could enroll in dual enrollment classes or participate in extracurricular activities such a band.
Dade City residents made it clear they prefer Moore-Mickens the way it is.
“This school has done a world of good for the black community, the white community, the Hispanic community, all communities,” Warren Godbolt of Dade City said. “It would be a slap in the face to close that school.”
Rather than move programs, Carl Waldron, who retired last year as an instructional technology specialist at the school, called on the board to “take bold steps to expand Mr. Moore’s and Mr. Mickens’ legacy.”
Waldron said students throughout east Pasco have been helped by Moore-Mickens.
One such student is 17-year-old Matthew Kurtz, who is affected by short-term memory loss. Kurtz and his mother, Lisa Kurtz, said Moore-Mickens provided him a learning environment better suited to his disability than a traditional high school.
“The program has been a godsend to me and other students,” Kurtz said.
Lynne Webb, president of United School Employees of Pasco, echoed that. She used to teach at Moore-Mickens and her son attended school there. Webb said at one time the school had more offerings, including a culinary arts program, but bit by bit those were taken away.
“Moore-Mickens is more than a cost center,” Webb said. “It is more than a school. It is a symbol of struggle and success.”
Margarita Romo, director of the non-profit Farmworkers Self-Help, said many migrant workers have earned an education at Moore-Mickens. She cited as an example a woman who works in forensics for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
“She is one of ours,” Romo said.
Romo was also among several people who spoke Monday night at the Dade City Commission meeting.
At that meeting, Mayor Camille Hernandez acknowledged the commissioners have no jurisdiction over the school.
“We don’t have any authority here,” she said, “but we do have a voice.”