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Parents reconsider attendance zones

Armed with high-powered software and loads of data, a committee of parents and school district staffers plans to explore over the next few months the possibilities of redrawing boundaries for the county's 10 elementary school attendance zones.

But given the enrollment growth since the rezoning idea surfaced a year ago, many officials are doubting the effort will matter.

"I don't think there is a viable solution but more schools," School Board member John Druzbick said.

District planning director Heather Martin noted that the only schools with space to accept more students are Eastside and Moton, and they have fewer available seats this year than last. Crowding seems likely to hit Moton soon, too, Martin added, as the Hernando Oaks and Southern Hills Plantation developments on U.S. 41 take off.

"What are you going to do in a couple of years when they're at capacity?" Martin asked. "Is the real answer to build? Possibly."

School Board member Robert Wiggins suggested that any effort to change boundaries before new schools open hardly seems worth the political unrest it would cause.

Yet the idea of disbanding the committee before it gets too far along fell flat amid a general reluctance to take the responsibility away from parents who clamored for input a year ago.

"Maybe there is a solution that will help us a little bit," Druzbick said.

It is possible the group will look at the numbers and say it's not worth the hassle, Wiggins said. "But at least it will come from the parents and not from the staff."

One parent appointed to the committee harbored no illusions that the task ahead is easy.

"I think it will be hard," said Marcia Laskoski, who represents J.D. Floyd Elementary School. "But I think it is something that has to be done."

Dozens of Floyd parents were among those who vehemently opposed the board's attempts to redraw the lines a year ago, even though their school is considered the most chronically over capacity in the district. Several complained that they did not want their children reassigned to schools farther from home, especially as part of a plan created without any parent comments.

The plan at the time centered on moving students from the most-crowded campuses _ particularly Floyd and Pine Grove _ to the least crowded. Planners projected the district to have 7,833 children in kindergarten through fifth grade, with no school housing less than 730 students or more than 850.

Actual enrollment showed a different picture.

As of Wednesday, the district had 8,464 students in elementary schools. The two least-crowded campuses had fewer than 700 children each, but the Spring Hill-area schools were bursting.

Only Chocachatti, which has an enrollment cap, had fewer than 800 children. The others ranged from a low of 851 students at Westside to a high of 1,059 at Floyd. Notably, Spring Hill, Deltona and Suncoast saw their populations skyrocket from near capacity to well above.

Any space that might have been used to add students through rezoning no longer exists at those schools.

Still, board members do not discount that the act of carefully reviewing the zones might generate something better than the status quo.

"It's valuable, because they're going to see what we see and perhaps see something we don't see," vice chairman Jim Malcolm said of the committee. "It may end up that with some of these options on the table _ new wings going on, things of that sort _ they can take a serious look and help us plan for the future."

The group also might find a way to even the population of each elementary school, even if the numbers are higher than originally expected, Wiggins said.

He and Malcolm both acknowledged that rezoning might be less necessary now that a new school is slated to open in 2005, and that school will be a magnet without attendance boundaries.

But "it's always good to have a backup plan," Wiggins added.

Backup plans would carry less weight with at least one board member, who preferred long-term answers to stopgap measures.

"I am against any redistricting unless it is absolutely permanent and beneficial for everybody," Druzbick said. "Do not redistrict for one year, or even two years, while waiting for a new school to come along and then send them back when it opens."

The attendance zone review committee has been asked to provide its recommendations in time for an April 27 School Board workshop. Its next meeting has not been scheduled.

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (352) 754-6115 or solocheksptimes.com.

Too crowded to matter?

As a committee reviews possible changes to elementary school attendance zones, some officials question whether any alterations can be effective. They contend that too many schools are too full to allow for meaningful rezoning.

SCHOOL ENROLLMENT

Jan. 8, 2004 Jan. 8, 2003

Brooksville 869 816

Chocachatti 795 713

Deltona 966 896

Eastside 679 662

J.D. Floyd 1059 1020

Moton 682 636

Pine Grove 1010 1012

Spring Hill 930 800

Suncoast 907 847

Westside 851 843

Source: Hernando County School Board

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