As Hillsborough considers new school boundaries, many families are not tuned in

A process to change school boundaries in Hillsborough County is getting relatively low participation from families who could be most affected, a new consultant’s report shows.

Although schools with large numbers of minority students are the most obvious candidates to be closed as part of the process, 62% of residents who responded to surveys in the first phase of the project were white.

This is in a district where white students make up 31% of the enrollment. There was little participation in north and central Tampa, according to the report, even though those communities have the bulk of Hillsborough’s under-enrolled schools.

County officials are planning a series of public meetings in early December to get more people involved.

Henry “Shake” Washington, the School Board member who represents District 5 in north and central Tampa, said he noticed the numbers and was concerned by them.

“It wasn’t communicated well enough, but we have to do a better job,” he said. “We may have to knock on doors, talk to people in church. We need to make sure voters come out and engage.”

People included in the first phase of the study were much more likely to live in east Hillsborough, where many described crowded conditions at Barrington High School in Lithia and Newsome High and Sumner High in Riverview.

Despite this widespread concern about overcrowding, parents typically said they did not want to change school attendance zones.

Families have cited crowded conditions at Newsome High.
Families have cited crowded conditions at Newsome High. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

At Original Carrollwood, parents are continuing to push to add grades 6, 7 and 8 to Carrollwood Elementary as an alternative to the D-rated Adams Middle.

WXY Studios, the district’s consulting firm, released the report as part of a study that will suggest ways to maximize efficiency. Much of the motivation is financial; District leaders say it doesn’t make sense to keep schools one-third to half empty while others in high-growth areas are bursting at the seams.

Connected: Hillsborough mulls another K-8 school, but questions arise over impact

They are avoiding direct discussion of “closing” schools, using the term “reuse.” That’s in part because Florida law allows charter operators to take over school buildings deemed redundant. But no one has ruled out the possibility that an under-registered school could find a new use as an office building, preschool or adult education center.

The consultants based their report on a week of virtual meetings in September. District leaders hope to see recommendations from WXY by late December or early January. Boundary changes could take place as early as August 2023, a move that is likely to disrupt long-standing attendance patterns that many families have come to rely on.

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Any changes would require School Board approval.

Connected: Hillsborough School Boundary Change: Good Idea or Too Disruptive?

Participants in this first phase of the project mentioned schools other than crowded suburban campuses. They said McLane Middle School is too far away from its students and parents. And they said Adams Middle should be considered for reuse.

Addressing the School Board on Tuesday, Superintendent Addison Davis outlined this timeline:

The week of November 28, there will be a virtual webinar to discuss the latest report and demonstrate a boundary scenario tool that members of the public can use to explore different rezoning options.

During the same week, WXY will hold virtual meetings with 10 to 20 organizations.

From December 5 to 9, consultants will hold in-person information sessions at locations throughout the county. The schedule of events has not yet been released.

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