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BIG CHANGES MAY BE ON WAY FOR SCHOOLS

School boundaries, field trip policies and magnet school admissions are on the agenda.

Few issues have the potential to raise as many hackles as those on the Hernando County School Board's agenda for Thursday.

Among the topics scheduled for a day-long workshop session are possible school boundary changes at 9 a.m., field trip policies at 11, and a district proposal to abandon sibling preference for magnet school admissions at 2 p.m.

Nearly every school in the county will be affected by proposed changes to school boundaries for the 2008-09 school year.

While the changes require a public hearing in October and a final vote in November, Thursday will be the School Board's first opportunity to see a rezoning committee's suggestions, including maps showing which neighborhoods might be transferred into new school zones.

Facing school overcrowding and the planned opening of a new K-8 school off Northcliffe Boulevard in Spring Hill in the fall of 2008, the committee has proposed zones that would provide immediate relief for a few schools.

Enrollment at crowded Spring Hill Elementary would drop from 1,028 to 777 students in the fall of 2008, if the district continues to grow at 4 percent a year.

J.D. Floyd Elementary would also send some students to the new school, and total enrollment would drop from 1,613 to 1,065 students.

"But we were unable to provide any long term relief, and this is exacerbated by the 6-8th grade environmental program," the committee said in a summary document, referring to a small middle school program at J.D. Floyd.

Those 300 students might eventually need to be moved to another middle school to accommodate future growth, said student services director James Knight.

Other schools like Deltona Elementary, which is projected to grow from 988 students to about 1,060, will get little help from the rezoning if enrollment continues to grow at the 4 percent rate, he said.

Enrollment would drop for a while at all county middle schools, with some students moving to the new K-8 school and a few neighborhoods switching from one middle school zone to another under the proposal.

The committee has also proposed changes for all high school zones, effective in the fall of 2010 with the opening of the new high school off U.S. 19 north of Hexam Road, Knight said.

Other issues

Field trips have proven a bane to the School Board, which vetoed some off-campus proposals last year only to be accused of unfairness by allowing others.

And several board members have said they're ready to take another look at magnet school admissions policies, which member Jim Malcolm said are widely perceived as being tainted or "too subjective."

The board will consider a district proposal to eliminate a sibling preference for the special-interest schools. Under the current policy, siblings made up nearly half of the 209 children accepted at Challenger this fall, more than 25 percent of those at Chocachatti, and about a fifth of those at Nature Coast, according to district figures.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

BY THE NUMBERS

4 Expected growth rate, in percentage, within the school district.

777 Possible enrollment at Spring Hill Elementary in 2008.

1,059 Possible enrollment at Deltona Elementary in 2008.

1,065 Possible enrollment at J.D. Floyd Elementary in 2008.

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