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Bloomingdale High School exceeds capacity

VALRICO — Crowded hallways at Bloomingdale High School have Kim Miller concerned.

For this mother, it's the first signal upon entering her son's school that something is amiss.

"There are just so many students," she said.

And she's right. Bloomingdale is an estimated 170 students overcapacity.

With more than 2,400 enrolled at the beginning of May, the school is at 107 percent capacity, according to the Hillsborough County School District.

Bloomingdale, which earned a B grade last year, has the largest student population in the county and joins East Bay as the only two high schools overcapacity.

To Miller, that means long lines in the cafeteria, not enough computers for students and strained resources.

District officials, though, are not concerned.

"I wouldn't consider it significantly overcapacity," said Steve Ayers, the district's director of community and parent relations.

Miller and another parent, Dee Prether, say they have about 200 signatures saying otherwise.

They have suggestions on how to solve the problem, too. One proposal Miller raised at a recent School Board meeting provoked some racially tinged discussion.

During public comment, Miller suggested relieving the overcrowding by ending the busing of students from Clair-Mel, a predominantly African-American neighborhood about 8 miles west of Bloomingdale.

Board member Doretha Edgecomb questioned Miller's motive.

"Why specify the Clair-Mel students as the first choice?" she asked rhetorically.

Not given a chance to respond, Miller, who is white, took offense to the question.

"Doretha Edgecomb insinuated that I'm a racist," she said later.

Edgecomb, who is African-American, denied the accusation.

"I did not imply, infer or suggest anything about her being a racist," she said, noting she was surprised it appeared that way. Edgecomb said she simply wondered why the Clair-Mel students were singled out.

Regardless of the remark, Miller stands by her proposal to change the school's boundaries.

"I'm not picking on the Clair-Mel kids," she said. "It's the most logical solution. Period."

More than 200 Bloomingdale students live in Clair-Mel. The school nearest them, Spoto High School, earned an A grade last year and is at only 66 percent capacity.

"Why is Bloomingdale the dumping ground?" Prether asked.

Prether and Miller also suggest the district send any Bloomingdale students who live north of Lumsden Road to Brandon High School, which was rated an A school last year and is at 79 percent capacity.

The boundaries for Bloomingdale High haven't been changed since at least 1998, Ayers said, when they were put in place to meet desegregation mandates.

It is one of three high schools without contiguous boundaries, Ayers said, with the majority of students coming from the neighborhoods around Bloomingdale and the Clair-Mel residents separated by other school zones. The district has no plans to change that, even with the extra space at Spoto and Brandon, Ayers said.

A school that is overcapacity is not an unusual or new occurrence. In 2007, at the height of the real estate boom, more than half of the county's high schools were overcapacity.

Two new schools were built, Strawberry Crest and Steinbrenner, and new wings were added to ease the strain.

Now, with the economic situation, those solutions are not an option, Ayers said. And changing school boundaries is premature at this point, he said.

Enrollment numbers are an "organic thing," Ayers said. "The number will fluctuate and we don't see any major growth swings in the near future."

Despite the number of students, state-regulated core class size requirements are being met at the school, said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

It's the facility that is over­capacity, said Bloomingdale principal Mark West, not the school or teachers.

"It doesn't affect anything going on at the school," West said. "It's still the same school that we've always been. It's still the same students we've had since well before I started."

It's often in the electives and advanced classes where Prether and Miller see the most trouble.

It's hard for students to get into the classes they are interested in, Miller said. Her son, a 10th-grader, was put into an aerobics class he didn't want when other classes filled up before he could register.

Miller's son now takes some virtual courses through Florida Virtual School in addition to his Bloomingdale classes. Prether's 10th grade daughter is dual-enrolled at Hillsborough Community College to expand her choices.

But it's not just their children they are concerned about, they said.

"Our kids are getting what they need," Miller said. "There are kids who will fall through the cracks, though, when a school is so overcrowded."

School Board member Stacy White, whose district includes Bloomingdale High School, said he is concerned but is monitoring the situation.

"We are in the midst of the housing bubble burst," he said. "We don't really know where the growth pattern will be in coming years. It is really difficult to predict what we might need to do in reference to the overcrowding at Bloomingdale."

Prether and Miller are not giving up.

"This might not change in my kids' time," Miller said. But it's the right thing to do."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2442.

FAST FACTS

High school capacity status for enrollment for 2011-12

Armwood 73 percent

Bloomingdale 107 percent

Brandon 79 percent

Durant 80 percent

East Bay 101 percent

Lennard 85 percent

Newsome 91 percent

Plant City 80 percent

Riverview 92 percent

Spoto 66 percent

Strawberry Crest 87 percent

Data used from Hillsborough County School District's website. Figures current as of April 24, 2012.

Bloomingdale High School exceeds capacity 05/24/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 5:30am]
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