Judging by the first round of feedback for a study of school boundaries, Hillsborough County parents and homeowners are opposed to sweeping changes.
Comments Monday at the first virtual meeting on the issue had a common theme: Don’t disrupt children’s education, and make sure existing students are “grandfathered” into the existing boundaries.
Some residents who live near A-graded schools said in the online chat that they should not have to suffer lower property values by being moved to another zone.
Most of the input was anonymous.
Fifty-nine percent told WXY Studio, the New York consulting firm conducting the study, that their biggest objective Monday was to “preserve current school assignments.”
Parents made up the largest share of participants. The geographic area best represented was fast-growing South County.
The district commissioned the boundary study because of uneven school enrollment levels that make the system inefficient at a time when money is scarce. Forty-five percent of all Hillsborough schools are less than 80% full, the low end of the ideal range. Some are half- to one-third empty, as a result of school choice and changing neighborhoods.
The consultants’ preliminary options include consolidating some under-enrolled elementary schools. Those that closed would be given other community uses such as preschools or adult training centers.
Based on a sample model from work the firm did in Prince George’s County, MD., the boundary changes could affect between 11% and 14% of district enrollment. That would work out to more than 20,000 students based on numbers released last week.
The 89 under-used schools are located largely in central and north Tampa, Sulphur Springs and Temple Terrace, which WXY designated on a map as its “repurposing area.”
But there are also more than a dozen under-used schools in Town ‘N Country and Citrus Park.
At the same time, 15% are at more than 100% capacity.
One parent at Monday’s meeting asked in the chat what was being done about people who submit false addresses to get their children into top schools.
Another said their children’s school has community foundations that raise money to enhance its courses and programs, and all of that would be disrupted in a boundary change.
Brittany Cooper was among a group of Carrollwood Elementary parents who want to expand the school to include middle school grades. They hatched their plan, they said, because families are leaving Carrollwood Elementary early to avoid having to continue on to D-rated Adams Middle School.
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“Please keep in mind Carrollwood Elementary hits all of those key parameters,” Cooper wrote after hearing the consultant’s presentation. “Under-utilized, distance to school, and community stability. We want Carrollwood Elementary K-8.”
Chris Farkas, the district’s chief of operations, said Monday’s questions and comments were helpful as the district gauges community sentiment.
“What’s the priority to you?” Farkas said. “Is the priority grandfathering? Is the priority being close to a school? Is the priority utilization? That is the entire purpose and the goal of what we’re doing today, and we’ve gotten a ton of feedback.”
Any changes that result from WXY’s work will have to be approved by the school board. They could be implemented as early as August 2023.
Four more meetings are planned this week, each at 6 p.m., and participants can sign up at hcps-boundary.org.