BROOKSVILLE — The number of children planning to attend Hernando County's new gifted education center has fallen far short of expectations, officials said this week.
Only 49 percent, or 188 of the 383 eligible elementary and middle school students in the district, have signed up to attend the Quest Academy for Gifted Education at the new Explorer K-8, said special education director Cathy Dofka.
That turnout was a disappointment for several School Board members who have championed a single, full-day program for the county's most talented students.
"Seems mighty low," board member Pat Fagan said Tuesday. "The low numbers concern me."
Around 47 families remain undecided about the program, and others have sought testing to be included, Dofka said.
But as it stands, those who opt out of the program will receive no special services when classes resume in the fall. Officials have said they can't afford to serve children in multiple locations, since the center's $1.7-million budget depends on the extra state funding.
Under state law, gifted children are treated as special-needs students and bring in about $2,100 each in extra funding. "Gifted" is defined as scoring at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score, and qualifying in at least one category on a state checklist or meeting other approved criteria.
Superintendent Wayne Alexander previously said he'd expected most eligible children would attend the center, despite the objections of parents who wanted their children to receive services in their current schools rather than be bused to the new school in Spring Hill.
But based on the latest numbers, officials have removed nine of the 24 teachers allocated for the center in next year's budget, finance director Deborah Bruggink said Tuesday. It was unclear where those teachers would work next fall, but most would likely return to their current schools.
Most of those nine had been assigned to the center's upper grades, which have failed to attract as many students as had been expected, said business services director Heather Martin.
School Board members weren't told of those changes or the low turnout at a Tuesday workshop, even after a lengthy discussion about the possibility of boosting the salary of a gifted coordinator position.
The board agreed in principle to the idea of allowing principal Dominick Ferello to revise that job description, possibly with a higher salary or more working days.
He expressed confidence that other gifted children would be found to cover the shortfall.
"I think it's a good start, I really do," he said.
Between now and the school's opening in August, the district hopes to screen children who earned a perfect score on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or other state tests, said student services director James Knight.
He described those as "the easy-to-find criteria," given the difficulties of identifying new gifted children over the summer break. "We're looking for a very narrow time frame to get this done."
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.