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Parents seek fix in school rezoning plan

Dozens of parents angered by a rezoning proposal told the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday night that they had gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition to keep their children in Central High School.

The petition seeks a key zoning change to keep students living in a handful of neighborhoods near Cortez Boulevard and the Suncoast Parkway from having to attend a different high school. Several of the parents who spoke at the meeting said the petition was started through the efforts of a group of families living in Silverthorn, though they had gathered signatures from many people around the county.

The petition, which has more than 900 signatures, asks the School Board to reduce overcrowding at Central by requiring nonmandatory out-of-zone students attending Central to attend their zoned high schools. That way, the petition says, the School Board will not have to rezone neighborhoods near Central High to lessen overcrowding.

The proposal being considered by the School Board seeks to reduce the population of Central by 228 students and increase the population of Hernando High by 277 students through redrawing school boundary lines.

The estimates used by the rezoning committee show an enrollment of 1,947 students in Central and 1,289 in Hernando High. Students entering grades 5, 8 and 12 would not be affected by rezoning. The existing magnet schools, Chocachatti Elementary and Nature Coast Technical High, and the K-8 school on Elgin Boulevard, are also exempt.

MaryAnn Coogan, 46, said she had one child who graduated from Central, a 15-year-old attending the school and a 12-year-old at Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology, who she hoped would attend Central, too. A resident of Silverthorn, she came to the meeting to see if board members would be willing to listen.

"Our children want to go to Central High School," Coogan said. "There's a sense of ownership" when kids go to a school their siblings have gone to, Coogan said later in an interview.

"We want them to let our kids stay," she said in an interview after the meeting Tuesday night.

At one point during the meeting, several of the people attending murmured they would be willing to consider double sessions at Central rather than send their kids to a different school. Others questioned if rezoning was a Band-Aid to ease overcrowding rather than a solution.

"We need more schools _ bottom line," said Frank Zuilkowski, a parent who spoke at the meeting.

For the most part, School Board members _ many of whom had praised the proposal drafted by a task force that included representatives from different schools _ said they would be willing to look at suggestions. But several School Board members stressed that some rezoning was necessary this year.

"We have done everything in our power not to rezone," said board member John Druzbick.

The School Board will hold another public workshop on rezoning on Feb. 1 at 3:00 p.m.

The meeting Tuesday also featured several testimonials from students nervous about having to go to different schools.

"It just seems unfair that we should have to move," said Patricia Ferre, a Silverthorn resident and a junior at Central High School.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathansptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

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