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Hillsborough pushes public meetings for school boundary changes to January

School board chairperson Nadia Combs wants time to “get it right” before showing plans to residents.
Superintendent Addison Davis had announced the meetings in a presentation to the school board on Nov. 1.
Superintendent Addison Davis had announced the meetings in a presentation to the school board on Nov. 1. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Dec. 5, 2022|Updated Dec. 6, 2022

A series of community meetings that were anticipated this week to discuss new attendance boundaries for Hillsborough County public schools will not happen until January.

Superintendent Addison Davis had announced the meetings in a presentation to the school board on Nov. 1. They mark the last stages of outreach before a consulting firm presents its recommendations to the board concerning how to even out enrollment, in part by closing some schools that are half- to a third empty.

But the district’s communications team never advertised the meetings, initially set for every day this week.

“Plans change,” spokesperson Tanya Arja said Monday. In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, she said officials decided to slow the process. “We want to ensure we allow parents and all stakeholders time to fully review the boundary scenarios prior to holding public meetings,” the email said.

Related: Study shows many Hillsborough parents are not tuned in to boundary discussion
Related: Changing Hillsborough school boundaries: Good idea, or too disruptive?

The district this year hired WXY Studio of New York to conduct an ambitious study of its more than 200 neighborhood schools. Some have had the same boundaries for decades, despite neighborhood changes and increased competition from independently managed charter schools.

Nadia Combs, beginning her second year as board chairperson, said the consultants are meeting with board members individually and showing them proposed new maps over video calls.

She said she wants the plans to be well-thought-out and refined before they are released to the public.

“I think that we’ve taken our time to get it right,” Combs said. “We only have one shot to release these maps.”

Nadia Combs
Nadia Combs [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Combs said she will try to get her constituents in northwest Hillsborough to attend the meetings. “I’m going to blast it everywhere I can,” she said.

But Arja said the district will likely get most feedback through web-based comments once the maps are posted online, and not necessarily at the meetings.

A mass email is expected to go out to parents this week to bring them up to date. Closer to the winter break, they will receive specific information about the proposed changes.

The district shared a new timeline that includes plans for 10 in-person community meetings from Jan. 9-13. It also includes a school board workshop on Jan. 31 to discuss boundary proposals, and a special board meeting in mid-February.

The Hillsborough County School Board is studying hundreds of public school boundaries, according to this new timeline.
The Hillsborough County School Board is studying hundreds of public school boundaries, according to this new timeline. [ HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SCHOOLS | Handout ]
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Regardless of how the information is rolled out, Combs said she is bracing for strong reactions.

Popular, A-rated schools might see some of their communities shifted to schools with lower grades to even out enrollment.

And schools that are largely empty might close. Combs prefers words such as “repurposed” to quell the fear that these properties would be taken over by charter schools, as state law allows. Some might become preschools while others could serve as offices or adult training centers.

The changes, if adopted, could take effect as early as August 2023.