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Class size limits may bring boundary changes for nine Hillsborough schools

TAMPA — Some students at up to nine schools may have to transfer unless the district finds other ways to meet limits imposed by the state's class-size amendment, officials said Tuesday.

By August, every school in Florida must be in full compliance with the constitutional amendment that voters passed in 2002 to reduce classroom overcrowding.

Teachers must be assigned no more than 18 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grades, and 25 students in high school.

Hillsborough officials said the district will have more than enough teachers and classrooms to comply with the amendment, which has been implemented gradually in recent years. But the uneven distribution of students might force boundary changes.

The district is "very concerned" about capacity problems at around nine schools, and has begun meeting with administrators, teachers and parents to make sure they're making the best use of teachers and buildings, said student placement director Bill Person.

Those on the district's priority list include Bryant, Summerfield Crossings, Trapnell, Turner, Sheehy, and Pride elementary schools; Burns Middle School; and Bloomingdale and Wharton high schools.

"Some of these will probably never see a boundary change, but we have to do something," Person said. "And if we're going to move boundaries, the time is coming soon."

Any changes to those schools' boundaries must be submitted to the School Board by February for approval, so parents will hear soon if that's a possibility, he said.

Some overcrowded high schools were helped by the opening this fall of two new high schools, Steinbrenner and Strawberry Crest. They'll gain even more space when this year's seniors graduate and the new schools are fully enrolled, Person said.

Other schools have seen construction projects funded by the class-size amendment, said facilities director Cathy Valdes. Over the last three years, the district has built some 51 new wings, and it will soon replace 10 portable classrooms at Plant High School with concrete modular units that count toward its official capacity, she said.

Officials at the meeting said they will continue to press the Legislature for ways to lessen the full impact of the amendment. Statewide, more than $13 billion has been spent on class-size reduction so far, with another $8 billion forecast to reach full compliance.

If districts aren't prepared, some schools could face a worst-case scenario, said deputy superintendent Ken Otero.

"Your school is maxed out, you have 18 children in every (early elementary) class, and now there's one more," he said. "Maybe that 19th kid needs to go to a different school, with transportation provided. That's a piece that could be very expensive."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Class size limits may bring boundary changes for nine Hillsborough schools 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 11:38pm]

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