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Hernando School Board debates class size at Explorer K-8

BROOKSVILLE — School boundary rezoning is returning to the Hernando County schools — but not soon enough to help overcrowded Explorer K-8.

School Board members on Monday considered shifting some middle-schoolers to neighboring schools next fall, in order to lower class sizes at the county's newest school. Explorer, which opened last fall, currently holds around 1,952 students — 59 more than its state-rated capacity.

"Some classes are sitting at 36 (students)," said Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield, referring to doubled-up classrooms there. "That problem is there and it's real."

But members quickly abandoned the idea of relocating students against their will to solve the problem, after learning it wouldn't just affect a handful of families.

New state concurrency regulations mean developers, the county and city of Brooksville would all get a chance to weigh in on any school boundary changes. And the state-mandated timetable for that rezoning process means some families wouldn't learn of school switches until July, said student services director James Knight, who heads a board rezoning subcommittee

Instead, the board agreed to shift 42 students who erroneously registered at the school last fall even though they didn't live within its zoned neighborhood; at least 13 who could be reassigned if the school no longer accepts school choice transfers under the federal No Child Left Behind law, and 11 students who have requested admission to the Challenger K-8 magnet program.

The board also agreed to invite families who live near J.D. Floyd Elementary, and possibly other schools, to voluntarily transfer with limited bus transportation.

"It would not be rezoning; it would be a temporary fix," Knight said.

Officials said those changes could lighten the load at Explorer by up to 186 students, while adding students to under-enrolled neighboring schools.

But that number is based largely upon the families who choose to leave voluntarily, a figure officials estimate could yield up to 120 students.

And that reduction of students could be largely wiped out by the potential influx of students from a new apartment complex on Northcliffe Boulevard, said former board member Jim Malcolm.

Speaking in his new capacity as member of a gifted education advisory group, he urged the board to take more aggressive steps to reduce Explorer's enrollment in order to protect and expand the gifted education center to serve students from other county schools.

"Unless you are more aggressive in downloading Explorer, that simply won't be an option," Malcolm said. "We would need a couple of extra classrooms for that enrichment option."

Some board members voiced frustration that the district didn't move more quickly in raising the possibility of rezoning Explorer's neighborhood to alleviate overcrowding.

But superintendent Wayne Alexander said parents wouldn't have tolerated rezoning the area just a year after moving 4,000 students to accommodate Explorer.

"We have other schools that are overcrowded," he added. "And we know the stress that (rezoning) puts on our students and it puts on our community."

And Explorer's not the only overcrowded school, Knight said. Ten county schools, including Nature Coast Technical High and Westside, Moton, Chocachatti, Deltona, and Suncoast elementary schools, are above their state-rated capacities.

By next fall the district will begin a round of public meetings to redraw its boundaries by the fall of 2010, to accommodate a new high school and middle school complex off U.S. 19 and Hexam Road.

"This will be another major rezoning," Knight said. "Be prepared."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando School Board debates class size at Explorer K-8 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 7:42pm]

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