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Uproar over Hillsborough school boundaries fizzles

TAMPA — Last month, more than 100 worried parents filled a school cafeteria with vociferous concerns about boundaries changes that would send their kids to a school with a perceived gang problem.

And just a few weeks ago, another group of parents protested the proposed busing of low-income students to their suburban schools, and planned a meeting to voice their outrage.

Both groups sent angry e-mails and made many phone calls.

But at Tuesday's Hillsborough School Board meeting, at what was set to be their last chance to oppose it all, there was no grand display, no mighty gathering, no piercing protest.

Collectively, about half a dozen people stepped up to speak about the formerly controversial boundaries the board approved.

Due to the state-mandated class-size amendment, in the coming school year, students at five northwest Hillsborough schools will shuffle to accommodate Sgt. Paul Smith Middle School in Citrus Park, which opens in August.

A majority of parents appeared content with the plan. It moves students around Davidsen, Farnell, Martinez, Walker and Webb middle schools.

But a large group of parents in the Bay Crest area had previously protested the change that would send their children to

C-rated Webb instead of A-rated Farnell. Webb, some said, has a gang problem.

The turmoil subsided, but some parents remained unhappy with the proposed change.

Michele Wagner, one of the three parents who spoke to the board, cited Webb's C ranking, teachers teaching outside their field of expertise, and safety concerns.

Several board members pooh-poohed school grades as a definitive qualifier, but raised their own concerns.

The facades of Webb and Farnell, said Susan Valdes, are like "night and day," citing Webb's lack of landscaping.

And the system should have been proactive in addressing parental concerns before, said Valdes. She and April Griffin were the only two dissenting votes on the Smith school boundaries.

The other contentious issue involved moving more than 300 students from the largely low-income minority area near the University of South Florida into schools in predominantly white New Tampa: 156 Shaw Elementary students to Hunter's Green Elementary and 182 Witter Elementary students to Clark Elementary.

No New Tampa parents spoke about concerns raised previously voiced about the possibility that the new students may lower the schools' grades and overall quality.

But a Shaw teacher, a longtime district volunteer and Clark principal Brenda Griffin all told the board that the bused students should be welcomed with open arms and taught with open minds.

"These kids are diamonds in the rough. … They need to be treated right wherever they go," said Pete Edwards, who volunteers in the schools.

Amber Mobley can be reached at amobley@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311. For information about action at Tuesday's meeting, including boundary adjustments for Doris Ross Reddick, Ruskin and Cypress Creek elementary schools, as well as principal appointments, go to education.tampabay.com.

>>Fast facts

School to be named for late county official

In other business, the school board named Elementary School "M," tentatively scheduled to open in August in Temple Heights, after Sylvia Rodriguez Kimbell, the Hillsborough County commissioner who died of cancer in 1994 at age 60. The school will provide crowding relief for Pizzo, Forest Hills and Cahoon elementary schools.

Uproar over Hillsborough school boundaries fizzles 04/15/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 11:14pm]
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