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Hillsborough School Board members prepare for their districts to shift

The public can weigh in at five upcoming meetings, and a final vote is planned for Dec. 16.
The Hillsborough School Board convenes during a meeting Aug. 18, where a majority voted to require masks for students and staff. The board is preparing to tackle another issue, redistricting, over the next few weeks.
The Hillsborough School Board convenes during a meeting Aug. 18, where a majority voted to require masks for students and staff. The board is preparing to tackle another issue, redistricting, over the next few weeks. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 29, 2021|Updated Oct. 29, 2021

Hillsborough County School Board members are undergoing a redistricting process in the coming weeks, and here is an important distinction for parents:

No child will be sent to a different school as a result.

Redistricting is sometimes confused with rezoning, which occurs when school systems change attendance boundaries. Redistricting affects voters, not students.

When the process concludes in December, a voter might reside in board member Nadia Combs’ northwest Hillsborough electoral district, for example, instead of board member Jessica Vaughn’s district, which extends from Carrollwood to Dover.

But if that voter’s child goes to Citrus Park Elementary, nothing about redistricting changes their status at that school.

Redistricting happens, as in other governmental bodies, to adjust for changes in population. It is recommended when there is a population shift of more than 10 percent.

Redistricting is already under way on the Hillsborough County Commission. School district leaders were not sure if they needed to follow suit, but were moved to action by U.S. Census Bureau data that they received at the end of September. Hillsborough’s population grew 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, the Census website shows.

The mistaken belief that school attendance boundaries will change is not the only source of widespread misunderstanding.

Some voters believe the School Board members’ responsibilities will change when the maps are redrawn.

The reality, according to Florida law and Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina, is that school board districts exist only for election purposes. The statute says that “each member of the district school board shall serve as the representative of the entire district, rather than as the representative of a district school board member residence area.”

Hillsborough County School Board's electoral map, which is up for revision this year.
Hillsborough County School Board's electoral map, which is up for revision this year. [ Hillsborough County School District ]

Despite that law, board members often speak in terms of “my schools” and some go as far as to avoid visiting schools in other members’ electoral districts.

The Hillsborough board has five single-member districts represented by Vaughn, Combs, Melissa Snively, Henry “Shake” Washington and Stacy Hahn. Two additional members — Lynn Gray and Karen Perez — are elected countywide.

Sheer numbers are not all that must be considered in these adjustments. Central Tampa’s District 5, now represented by Washington, must remain at least 37.3 percent African American as part of a practice that exists to satisfy a federal law against diluting the minority vote.

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Proposed maps will be posted on the district website soon after a School Board meeting on Tuesday, where the plan will be discussed. A vote is expected on Dec. 16.

Davis had already scheduled town hall meetings to discuss the district’s strategic plan, and those meetings will also give participants a chance to review and discuss the maps.

These are the planned meetings, subject to approval on Tuesday, all from 6 to 7:30 p.m.:

  • Tue., Nov. 9, Sickles High, 7950 Gunn Highway, Citrus Park.
  • Mon., Nov. 15, Wharton High, 20150 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., New Tampa.
  • Wed., Nov. 17, Lennard High, 2342 E Shell Point Road, Ruskin.
  • Mon., Nov. 29, Durant High, 4748 Cougar Path Road, Plant City.
  • Thur., Dec. 9, Middleton High, 4801 N 22nd St., Tampa.
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