TAMPA — The ghosts of desegregation are haunting North Tampa.
Two crowded schools in the University of South Florida area need to shed students quickly if the Hillsborough County School District is to meet state-mandated class size requirements.
With no room to build out, the district could move 338 students next year from that largely minority area into schools in predominantly white New Tampa: 156 Shaw students to Hunter's Green Elementary and 182 Witter students to Clark Elementary.
The prospect, aired last week at a School Board committee meeting, has reopened discussions about the merits and drawbacks of busing for desegregation.
Under a federal court order, the district bused children from the inner city to remote suburbs for more than 30 years. The court order was lifted in 2004, cheering critics who said forced desegregation dismantled community schools and made it harder for lower-income parents to be involved in their children's education.
Now, because of class size requirements, the school district finds itself having to ask children once more to leave their neighborhoods.
Officials are using two tools: magnet schools, which offer specialized instruction, and choice, which allows students to attend any school that has room within a large, designated territory.
But fliers sent to parents, booths at fairs and special meetings have not generated much interest in these options, said Steve Ayers, director of pupil administrative services. Shaw and Witter are at 120 percent and 119 percent of capacity, respectively.
At a workshop last week, most board members indicated they wanted the transfers to remain voluntary. The New Tampa schools are about 10 miles away from the university neighborhoods. Two closer schools, Tampa Palms Elementary and Chiles Elementary, are too close to capacity, Ayers said.
Board members generally are concerned about the stark differences in the demographics.
Only 12 percent of Clark students are black. That number dips to 10 percent at Hunter's Green. Just about 20 percent of students at both schools receive free or reduced-price lunch.
In the university area, Shaw and Witter are nearly 60 percent black and about 30 percent Hispanic. More than 90 percent of Witter students and Shaw students receive lunch subsidies.
The transfers would produce effects similar to the old desegregation system.
Of the 156 Shaw students who could move to Hunter's Green, 88 are black. The shift would more than double the number of black students attending Hunter's Green, which had 82 black children enrolled as of September.
It's a similar story at Clark where, as of September, 80 of more than 600 students are black. Moving Witter students there would add another 101 black students.
"There are two very distinct cultures existing there," said School Board Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero. "Students tend not to feel accepted because they come in from the bus."
Concerned parents at Freedom High School, for example, have sent e-mails recently blaming university-area students for that school's spate of violent incidents. "It is very disturbing to hear that attitude," said Faliero, who says the students aren't to blame.
Many educators dismiss the notion that inner-city children can't thrive in a suburban setting.
Witter principal Anna Brown was the principal of Clark when students there were bused in from the university area.
"They did fit in,'' Brown said. "They did achieve and they did become a part of the school."
The School Board's lone black member, Doretha Edgecomb, agrees that children can adapt and benefit from new surroundings.
"If we can't make it work neighborhood-to-neighborhood, how are we going to expect them to work with people in the global market?," she asked at the board workshop. "Every opportunity where we can diversify and demonstrate that we support and value diversity in the school district, we ought to make an effort to do that."
Board member Candy Olson wants the school district to expand capacity in the university area, perhaps by opening smaller schools such as the new MOSI Partnership School.
That might be a more permanent solution, Ayers said. But the school district has been unsuccessful in finding local property "and we need to do something now."
Amber Mobley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 269-5311.