WESTCHASE — A year before the opening of Steinbrenner High in Lutz, folks in Westchase worry that the Hillsborough County School District will devise a boundary plan that divides their community.
Memories of a controversial 2006 School Board vote that shifted 144 students from Westchase Elementary to Lowry Elementary are fresh. And at a recent forum for Hillsborough School Board candidates, homeowners pressed them for firm commitments that that wouldn't happen again.
One preliminary plan would move students from Sickles High to Steinbrenner High, said Steve Ayers, the district's director of pupil administrative services. That would create room to shift students from Alonso High to Sickles. Alonso is not far from Westchase; Sickles is in Citrus Park.
"Will you commit tonight to opposing any boundary plan that again bisects a community like Westchase and supporting a plan that keeps communities intact at either Alonso or Sickles?" asked Chris Barrett, a Westchase homeowner who moderated the Aug. 6 forum.
None of the candidates made any promises.
"We need to be very cautious how we do this," said District 1 board member Susan Valdes, who wants to represent west and parts of northwest Hillsborough for another term.
Valdes, who was on the losing end of that 2006 vote, and Carol W. Kurdell, a four-term incumbent who voted to redraw Westchase Elementary's boundaries, said population growth, class-size amendment restrictions and other dynamics have pushed the district to the limit.
Dave Schmidt, a district administrator seeking to unseat Valdes, said the 2006 fiasco could have been avoided with proper planning. "Everybody knows what the demographics are going to be two, three years ahead in most cases," he said. "Then we can bring in the community, we can bring in the parents, we can bring in the students and make a decision that's equitable to all."
Stephen Gorham, who is challenging Kurdell in the countywide District 7 race, said that only "as a last resort" would he support a plan that moves kids out of their community schools. He said he wouldn't make any decision until after a review of demographic data.
Jason Mims, another of Kurdell's opponents, said the question should be: Will "the appropriate education be in place so that students from any community will be able to go where the student wants to go?"
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 269-5303.