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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Stowers Elementary rezoning passes unanimously in Hillsborough

Stowers Elementary School in FishHawk Ranch is at 110 percent capacity. A rezoning adopted Tuesday will remove some students, but -- critics say -- not enough to keep up with growth.

Stowers Elementary School in FishHawk Ranch is at 110 percent capacity. A rezoning adopted Tuesday will remove some students, but -- critics say -- not enough to keep up with growth.



Faced with a number of imperfect options at Stowers Elementary School, the Hillsborough County School Board approved a compromise Tuesday that essentially takes a wait-and-see attitude on crowding at the suburban school. 

Under the new plan - the second drawn up in recent months, which can be seen on this map - just under 160 Stowers students will be moved to Bevis and Pinecrest elementary schools after this school year. Incoming fifth graders can remain at Stowers if their parents can provide transportation.

A prior plan, which can be seen on this map, would have sent another 368 to Boyette Springs Elementary.

A final document, with updated enrollment statistics, was presented Tuesday to the board.

Parents - including some who selected their homes based on proximity to A-rated Stowers - mobilized in support and opposition to both plans.

Leaving the Boyette Springs group in Stowers risks the school, now at more than 110 percent capacity, will remain crowded. District officials expect some students will enter Boyette Springs voluntarily because of a gifted program that will soon open there. But they don't know how many will, and the program has strict entrance requirements.

Stowers is 58.3 percent white and Boyette Springs is 57.1 percent white. The neighborhoods that would have sent children to Boyette Springs have higher concentrations of minorities than those closest to Stowers, causing some parents to fear the first plan would hurt diversity efforts.

Nearly half the students at Boyette Springs receive free lunch, compared with 26 percent at Stowers.

District officials said they were interested in keeping neighborhoods together, not re-segregating the schools.

But the prior plan, according to the district's own projections, would have resulted in a 67.5 percent white student body at Stowers while Boyette Springs would drop from 57.1 to 50.5 percent white.

Under the new plan, Stowers will be 56.5 percent white, just a slight decrease.

Despite the more even racial balance, the new plan drew complaints from parents who told the School Board Tuesday that the school is too crowded now and will continue to be too crowded as growth in the area continues.

"By Christmas, it will almost be back to where it is," said Rob Keatts, who has a daughter in the first grade. He said the bathrooms are so dirty from over-use that his daughter won't use them.

"The teachers are great. The administrators are great," he said. "But it's not an environment that's conducive to learning."

Parent Jenifer Breaux agreed.

"These are my children. These are your children," she told the board. "It's about more than tables and desks."

District leaders acknowledged a broader rezoning will happen in at least two, and perhaps three stages.

A new elementary school, planned for 2017 in Riverview's Triple Creek area, is expected to alleviate crowding as the area continues to develop.

New construction, while under way, is limited in the FishHawk community, said Lorraine Duffy Suarez, the district's head of planning and growth management.

But the entire southeast Hillsborough area is booming, and that's likely to continue, she said. While board member Cindy Stuart suggested that school officials prevail upon the County Commission to keep a close watch on growth, Duffy Suarez pointed out that some developments were approved years ago, before the recession, and were dormant for years.

Before the 5-0 vote to approve the rezoning, Superintendent Jeff Eakins pointed out that, among other things, he wants to maintain stability among the staff at Stowers.

Board chairwoman April Griffin said, given all the growth, this is an opportune time for the district to collaborate with privately managed charter schools."There are families that are looking for some form of relief and we're looking for some form of relief," she said.

Reaction to the board vote, on  social media, came swiftly."Shameful," tweeted an organization called Save Our Students in a message that included the hashtag, "The kids will suffer."

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 29, 2016 6:46pm]


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