Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough schools turn to computer help to redraw boundaries

TAMPA — Hillsborough schools have a problem.

About 35,000 classroom seats are sitting empty across the county, and the children who can fill them are in other schools.

So the district is paying for hundreds of portable classrooms to relieve crowding at campuses that have more students than they can hold. That simply won't fly forever.

"We're going to have to move kids to seats now, instead of moving seats to kids," Bill Person, Hillsborough's general director for student placement, recently told a community task force on class-size issues.

Now that enrollment growth has skidded to a halt and class sizes are capped, school officials say a balancing act is in order. They want to eliminate portables. And the state isn't going to pay for construction while so many seats go unused.

The search for solutions begins this year as the district redraws boundaries for at least seven high schools. This student shuffle revolves around the opening of two high schools next fall: one in Lutz, the other in eastern Hillsborough.

The approach used could set the stage for a future review of attendance zones in the rest of the county. The district is getting outside help with the process, often criticized as political and unfair.

This time, the first run will be blind. No maps. No way to favor any neighborhood over another.

Computer models will analyze the tradeoffs between transportation costs and the most efficient use of classroom seats under different boundaries. School officials will get to see multiple scenarios, and review what each would mean for school diversity.

"You will look at the analytic consequences of different solutions without knowing whose ox is getting gored," said Bill Lazarus, chief executive officer and president of SeerAnalytics, the firm hired to crunch the student data. "That allows us to have a very principled approach to these very difficult and complex decisions."

Maps, of course, will eventually enter into the discussion. So will factors traditionally considered in drawing school boundaries, such as major roads and other natural dividing lines and neighborhood borders.

School officials also will listen to the affected communities.

"The public is wanting to see — and we're wanting to see — is this a better way of doing business?" School Board member Doretha Edgecomb said. "I'm hoping it's going to give more transparency."

For now, the discussion centers on two new high schools, Steinbrenner in Lutz and a yet-unnamed campus in the Dover area. Their boundaries could affect a long list of nearby schools. In the north county, Sickles, Gaither, Leto, Alonso, Freedom and Chamberlain could see changes. In the east, Durant, Plant City and Armwood are likely to be affected.

Once the district finishes this project, probably in late January, administrators can begin to look at the rest of the county. There are no plans for major boundary changes next year, beyond new school openings.

The $142,000 consultant contract includes the call for "an initial 'big picture' of the opportunity for long-range planning." The scope remains undefined. For starters, the consultants will examine the locations of about 500 portables being used as classrooms.

Such modeling, coupled with detailed student data, could offer an analysis of school zones unlike any ever conducted. The consultants can review everything from where students live to their ethnicity and poverty levels. Children's identities remain anonymous.

While district officials have not identified any specific schools for future changes, School Board chairwoman Jennifer Faliero has pointed to South Tampa's high schools as an obvious concern.

Popular Plant High, an affluent school long seen as a crown jewel among public schools, is severely crowded. It is surrounded by less-advantaged high schools — all with empty seats.

Already, the very mention of touching Plant's boundaries has sounded alarms in the community.

School officials stress that no changes will be made for next year. If they look at Plant's boundaries in the future, the goal is to have standards in place that treat Plant just like any other school.

"In the past, we've had communities that have felt that the school district was partial to affluent communities," said Person, who oversees student placement. "We want a process that treats everyone fairly and treats everyone the same."

Letitia Stein can be reached at or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

>>Fast facts

How much room do schools have?

Alonso: 112 percent of capacity

Armwood: 92 percent

Blake: 85 percent

Bloomingdale: 116 percent

Brandon: 101 percent

Chamberlain: 116 percent

Durant: 98 percent

East Bay: 104 percent

Freedom: 90 percent

Gaither: 109 percent

Hillsborough: 100 percent

Jefferson: 86 percent

King: 88 percent

Lennard: 69 percent

Leto: 83 percent

Middleton: 78 percent

Newsome: 91 percent

Plant: 120 percent

Plant City: 127 percent

Riverview: 97 percent

Robinson: 85 percent

Sickles: 131 percent

Spoto: 74 percent

Tampa Bay Tech: 107 percent

Wharton: 108 percent

Source: Hillsborough school district, capacities based on enrollment numbers from the first month of school.

Hillsborough schools turn to computer help to redraw boundaries 10/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 6:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida's school grades improve as educators get the hang of a new system


    Following a trend, Florida's school grades showed strong gains in the third year after the state changed its grading formula and the standardized tests that students take every year.

    After finding out earlier Wednesday that her school went from a low C to an A,  Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates with her students in the YMCA After School program at the school in St. Petersburg. Houston is giving a high five to rising fifth grader Jonaven Viera. Rising 4th grader Jonathan Cafaro is in foreground with his back to camera. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  2. Tampa Bay woman, 11-year-old boy had sex up to 20 times the year their baby was born, detectives say.


    TAMPA — A woman sexually battered an 11-year-old Brandon boy, got pregnant and raised the baby for three years before a tip led to her arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

    Marissa Mowry, now 25,  had sex as many as 20 times in 2014 with a boy who was 11 when he impregnated her, Hillsborough County detectives allege. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks


    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  4. Mariners lose lefty Drew Smyly to Tommy John surgery


    SEATTLE — Drew Smyly was the centerpiece to one of Seattle's many offseason moves by general manager Jerry Dipoto. He was a priority acquisition as a proven lefty for the rotation the Mariners believed would thrive pitching at Safeco Field.

    Drew Smyly will undergo Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Seattle announced the diagnosis on Wednesday, ending Smyly's hopes of returning during the 2017 season. [AP photo]
  5. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times