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Hillsborough parents oppose school switch

TAMPA — Their qualms are many, their complaints harsh and frequent.

Many parents living in suburban Bay Crest are dead set against a proposal by Hillsborough school officials to send their children to Webb Middle School, a predominately Hispanic school in Town 'N Country.

At least 40 parents have sent caustic e-mails to school officials. Eleven families representing 19 Bay Crest children have signed a petition of protest.

"Call it stubborn, call it selfish, or just call it overprotective parenting, but the majority of Bay Crest residents are not going to send their kids to Webb Middle School," Bay Crest Elementary School PTA president Stephanie May wrote in an e-mail to Steve Ayers, Hillsborough's director of pupil administrative services.

The issue has exploded because of the school district's need to move students out of crowded schools to meet the state's class size mandates. As part of a larger reshuffling that includes the opening of Sgt. Smith Middle School in Citrus Park, 145 students will be rezoned from consistently A-rated Farnell Middle School to C-rated Webb.

At a recent workshop, most of the School Board defended Webb.

"Webb gets a bad rap," said board member Jack Lamb, who said its feeder schools are rated A and B and have residential areas that are comparable to Bay Crest.

Webb principal Brent McBrien said he faced the same biases and misconceptions at nearby Leto High School, where he was an assistant principal for seven years. He said Bay Crest parents should give Webb a chance.

Board member Susan Valdes plans to meet with Bay Crest Elementary parents tonight. She has promised to vote against the rezoning, but still hopes parents "will become enthusiastic in embracing Webb."

It could be a hard sell.

Bay Crest parents say Webb is educationally subpar and a hotbed of gang activity in a dangerous neighborhood. Parents wrote that they've picked up spent bullet casings behind Webb and have seen drug deals at Leto.

Cpl. Kyle Robinson of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office gang enforcement section says gang issues at Webb are no worse than at any other school.

"Right now there are no active complaints from any of the faculty, students or parents," Robinson said.

Still, the area surrounding Webb has had problems.

In February 2006, an argument at a weekend carnival at Webb — technically not a school function — led to the gang-linked murder of two former Leto students.

Less than a half-mile away from Webb is Royal Oaks Apartments, which came under Sheriff's Office scrutiny in 2002 for gang activity when it was known as Cimarron Apartments. The complex came under new management in 2005, with promises of improvement. But parent Michelle Trinidad said, "I hear stories all the time about kids from those apartments beating each other up at school."

Last school year, Webb reported nine fights, according to school district numbers. That compares to Farnell's report of four fights.

Bay Crest parents say they will send their children to private, charter or magnet schools, or move, to avoid Webb. Some of the e-mails sound racially biased, Valdes said. "But I hope they're not geared that way."

Most of the children who go to Webb are minorities and economically disadvantaged. Of the school's more than 700 students, nearly two-thirds receive free or reduced-priced lunch. Sixty percent are Hispanic and 11 percent are black. White students make up 20 percent of the enrollment.

By contrast, just one-third of Farnell's 1,100 students receive lunch subsidies.

While Webb is at 76 percent capacity, Farnell is at 117 percent. The proposed reshuffling would drop Farnell to 82 percent and bring Webb to 89 percent capacity.

Sixth- and seventh-graders currently at Farnell will have the option of staying at the school, but the school district will not provide transportation, Ayers said.

Amber Mobley can be reached at amobley@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

Hillsborough parents oppose school switch 03/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 11:44pm]
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