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School boundaries spelled out

Few parents attend the first hearing about who will attend a school being built on Forest Ridge Boulevard, but there are more hearings next week.

As Citrus school officials took their new attendance boundary plan to parents for the first time this week, there was little criticism but several questions.

Only a handful of parents attended the first of four public meetings, this one at Citrus Springs Elementary School on Thursday evening. The meetings are designed to inform parents what kinds of issues the district's rezoning committee considered when drawing up its attendance boundary proposal to populate the new elementary school under construction on Forest Ridge Boulevard.

The plan pulls students from areas now primarily served by Citrus Springs and Hernando elementary schools and Lecanto Primary School. Minor population adjustments are also set for other elementary schools in the county under the plan.

Most of the questions asked Thursday were about the out-of-zone process _ the procedure parents must use to send their child to a school other than the one they are zoned to attend. The process is a popular one. Last year, 795 elementary-age students went to different schools than the ones they were set to attend, according to James Hughes, coordinator of student services.

That's more students than are even expected to attend the new elementary school, which is set under the current proposal to open next August to 728 children.

One parent asked how to request that her child transfer to a different school. Another expressed concern that her child wouldn't get to attend primary, middle and high school with the same children if she moved the child to Citrus Springs Elementary School.

Hughes explained that it is difficult to keep all students together moving from one educational level to the next, especially in the central ridge area of the county. Citrus Springs Elementary students, for example, might land at any one of three middle schools depending on where they live in the elementary school attendance zone.

Citrus Springs Elementary has felt some of the most severe population pinch as the central area of the county has grown. Last year, in order to help out with the crunch, the School Board ordered that new students in the Beverly Hills area zoned for Citrus Springs would begin attending Lecanto Primary.

In large part because of that, Citrus Springs Elementary has only 14 students who transfer in from another school while another 160 transfer out _ many of them from the Beverly Hills area.

The school's current actual enrollment is 1,016, but with the rezoning and opening of the new school next year, the population should drop to about 804, according to rezoning committee calculations.

Other officials talked about how ideal school population numbers were chosen and how transportation concerns were examined before the boundary proposal was set.

Superintendent Pete Kelly explained the priorities that had been set for the rezoning committee members as they did their work.

"The board wanted to make sure, as much as possible, that students were housed in permanent structures . . . and that there would be room to run programs so that there is student achievement," Kelly said. "Also, we wanted to make sure that we had some room left over for them to grow."

Over the next three years, officials hope that all portable classrooms will be gone from elementary schools except for needed portables at Homosassa and Floral City elementary schools. There are about 31 portables in the schools, explained John Kline, a parent representative on the rezoning committee.

Additional public opinion meetings on the attendance boundaries are set for 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday next week at Hernando Elementary School, Beverly Hills Community Center and Lecanto Primary School respectively.

Many of the parents whose children will be moved as a result of the proposal have been notified by mail, but officials Thursday also encouraged anyone with questions, concerns or ideas about how the new zones will work to attend the public meetings. They will provide parents the chance to see the master map of how the new zones would look as well as detailed maps showing street by street which neighborhoods will be moved from one school to another.

Officials hope to have any adjustments that crop up as a result of the meetings completed by early this fall so that a final proposal can go to the School Board for approval in November.