TAMPA — More than 4,000 high school students could be forced to change schools under a boundary proposal that Hillsborough district officials released late Thursday.
The opening of two new high schools in the northwest and eastern regions of the county are driving the boundary changes, which can be especially emotional for families of high school students.
The proposed attendance zones for Steinbrenner High in Lutz and Strawberry Crest High in the Dover area would bring changes to six high schools — Sickles, Alonso, Gaither, Armwood, Durant and Plant City.
Still, some parents wanted more. The district has not proposed any adjustments to Freedom High in New Tampa, despite intense lobbying from Lutz parents hoping their children can attend a school closer to home. North Tampa's crowded Chamberlain High also is not slated to see relief.
Bret Anderson, a lawyer who lives in Lutz, said she was disappointed but not surprised at the recommendation. She predicted it will only be a patch.
"It's a short-term solution that won't work for the northern part of the county," said Anderson, who lobbied with other Lutz parents to allow students from the community to attend the same school together.
Currently, Lutz children attend Gaither and Freedom. The opening of Steinbrenner, some parents said, offered an opportunity to adjust school boundaries and bring them together.
Like other parents, they won't have much time to react to the proposal. School officials have scheduled community meetings for next week. The School Board could approve the boundaries as soon as Feb. 10.
Schools need to start planning student schedules for the coming year, said Bill Person, Hillsborough's general director for student placement.
He said the district had intended to complete the boundary changes for the next school year before the winter holiday. "It look longer to do this than we expected," he said. "We did something different with the high school boundaries this time."
The district contracted an outside consultant to develop the attendance zones, seeking a more objective, data-driven approach. It remains to be seen if parents consider the process an improvement.
Certainly, the timing is an inconvenience. The district already has launched the first round of applications for school choice, which allows students to attend schools outside their attendance zone.
Person said the district will create a special choice period in early March specifically for the affected high schools. This ensures that families upset with the changes will have options, and others can apply to attend a school that ends up with available seats after the shuffle.
Person noted that rising high school seniors can stay at their current schools. But rising juniors and sophomores would have to move if their boundary changes. Exceptions are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Person said he will explain the reasons for leaving the Freedom and Chamberlain boundaries intact when he meets Wednesday night with parents affected by the northwest Hillsborough boundary changes.
He said Chamberlain is due to see attention from the next set of boundary adjustments, which would take effect in August 2010.
That may not satisfy parents like Rick Wagner, who lives on Lake Magdalene, less than 2 miles from Gaither High School and more than 5 from Chamberlain High. But his son, now in the eighth grade, is zoned for Chamberlain.
Wagner said the school district's failure to address the overcrowding at Chamberlain just doesn't add up.
"You would think that all the schools that border on Gaither's district would be looked at," Wagner said, noting that Chamberlain is considerably over capacity. "You're leaving out a school that I don't think should be left out."
Letitia Stein can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.