TAMPA — The Hillsborough School Board approved new attendance zones Tuesday for three schools opening in the eastern part of the county, forcing nearly 2,300 students to move.
Though the new boundaries sparked relatively little controversy, some board members still weren't thrilled by the sprawling attendance zones — designed to accommodate students who never showed up as well as those being moved out of crowded schools.
Because of the housing market crash, each of the new schools — Stowers Elementary and adjacent Barrington Middle in Lithia and Bailey Elementary in Dover — will open with far fewer students than they were built to hold.
Officials began planning the campuses during the peak of Hillsborough's last growth spurt, when more than 5,000 new students poured onto campuses each school year.
Then trends reversed. This year, Hillsborough had a net loss of students.
"If you had a crystal ball, you would have seen the drop-off that was coming, but we don't," said Steve Ayers, director of community and parent relations. "When (the growth) comes screeching to a halt, that's what causes problems."
He noted that new campuses are relieving crowding at nearby schools, even if it could be years before they fill up.
Stowers will open using just 45 percent of its seats, according to district projections. Barrington is expected to start at 65 percent capacity, and Bailey at 83 percent..
School officials said the new attendance zones prepare the district for growth — and they expect growth to return. They also see the changes as necessary to meet statewide class-size limits.
In other business, superintendent MaryEllen Elia warned School Board members that next year's budget could see as much as a 10 percent cut, which would amount to $120 million.