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Middle schools' zones are changing

Last-minute appeals from families failed to persuade the School Board on Tuesday night to vote down a contentious plan that aims to ease crowding at Citrus Springs Middle School.

After four families urged reconsideration, the School Board voted unanimously to change the attendance zones for all four middle schools in the fall.

In a separate decision, the board agreed not to change the attendance boundaries for elementary schools.

"This has not been easy," School Board Chairman Lou Miele said after the vote.

Miele and other board members said the new changes are necessary to comply with state requirements to reduce class sizes.

The changes call for the relocation of 360 students - 231 who now attend Citrus Springs Middle and 129 who attend Lecanto Middle School. Most would go to Crystal River Middle School.

If those students wish to stay put, they must request a waiver by March 15. If their request is approved, they must provide their own transportation or travel to the nearest bus stop in the new zones.

All incoming students will be required to attend the school for which they are zoned, although there is one exception: Families that have students in a particular middle school have the option of sending younger siblings to the same school.

For example, the younger sibling of a sixth-grader at Citrus Springs Middle can attend that school as long as he reaches the sixth grade before the older sibling leaves for high school.

Tuesday, the four families that spoke against the rezoning left the meeting feeling their efforts had been in vain.

Victor Huntley was armed with a stack of maps, charts and other materials. He argued, unsuccessfully, that the committee of principals and administrators that drafted the new boundaries used flawed methods.

Under the redistricting plan, Huntley's daughter and 82 other families living west of Homosassa Trail (County Road 490) would attend Crystal River Middle. Huntley said his daughter was looking forward to attending Lecanto Middle. He and others wondered why 86 students must relocate to another school while 46 students from Citrus Springs Middle are being moving to Lecanto Middle.

District administrators said the move was necessary to align middle school students with the new boundaries for the high schools. Last month, the board voted to approve new zones for the high schools.

Debbie Groff said she felt uneasy with "vague" language that gave middle schools wiggle room to deny students with older siblings in those schools. She has one son in fourth grade and another in sixth.

"Can you guarantee us that sibling position?" Groff asked. " "As long as space is available' isn't comforting to a parent."

Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel said the principals, who were present at Tuesday's meeting, would give priority to families with siblings but stoped short of offering a guarantee.

Expressing a widespread sentiment among parents there, William Dohl said he wished the district had involved parents earlier in rezoning discussions. Under the new zones, his daughters will attend Crystal River Middle.

"None of us were involved in the decisionmaking process," Dohl said.

The absence of parents from the committee that makes new zone recommendations troubled board member Pat Deutschman.

In the end, board members appeared to agree that parents should serve as representatives in the committee that will study rezoning again next year. They also encouraged more parental involvement in the schools' advisory councils.

"If we believe in keeping families together," Deutschman said, "we need to make a little more of an effort."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sppimes.com or 860-7305.

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