South Tampa parents organize against school rezoning proposals

Plant High and Coleman Middle School could send students to Jefferson High and Pierce Middle, according to two new maps.
The entrance to Tampa's Plant High, where some families have signed a petition saying a proposed attendance boundary change would be harmful.
The entrance to Tampa's Plant High, where some families have signed a petition saying a proposed attendance boundary change would be harmful. [ Times (2004) ]
Published Dec. 21, 2022

Hillsborough County’s school boundary plan is beginning to meet with resistance, and it is starting in South Tampa.

Hundreds have signed an online petition protesting the possible movement of students from Plant High and Coleman Middle — both crowded and with A grades from the state — to C-rated Jefferson High and Pierce Middle.

The neighborhoods affected are on the northern fringe of the Plant and Coleman attendance areas: North Bon Air, Beach Park, Westshore Palms, Oakford Park and Gray Gables — generally located between Swann Avenue and Interstate 75.

Petitioners describe the communities as relatively diverse. They suggest the boundary changes, if approved by the School Board, could cause Plant and Coleman to become even less diverse. Both schools are nearly 70 percent white.

The residents say that, in moving into these areas of rapid gentrification, they helped lower crime rates. “Rezoning would reverse that,” they say in their petition.

The two scenarios affecting Plant and Coleman are among three that were suggested by WXY Studios, a consultant working with the district with the goal of evening out enrollment levels and improving efficiency. A third scenario would not change the Plant and Coleman boundaries. Another option before the School Board is to reject the plans and keep things as they are.

Related: Hillsborough school boundary plans: Closed schools, thousands affected

Danielle Caci, a Plant High School graduate with a daughter who will enter kindergarten in August, has been acting as an unofficial spokesperson for the homeowners. She said Tuesday that the group includes many people who, like her, purchased their homes with the intention of sending their children to the South Tampa schools.

The changes, if enacted, would move students abruptly from high-performing schools to those with lesser records.

“Among our children, it will disconnect high school affiliations — one child went to one high school, another goes to a different high school,” the petition says. “Two children, the same family, one with more opportunity than another. This is unfair.”

It is also unfair, they said, to lower property values among elderly homeowners who will not be in a position to adjust.

The district released the plans using an interactive web tool on Dec. 13. Residents can review the plans and leave comments on the website. The district and the consultant will gather those comments and forward them to the School Board, which is expected to make its decision in February.

Districtwide, as many as 24,000 students could be moved if the board accepts the most aggressive of the three plans. The changes to Plant and Coleman’s boundaries could affect as many as 275 students.

“These are preliminary proposals,” district spokesperson Tanya Arja said Tuesday. “Nothing is final. All of the proposals will be presented to the School Board, and we encourage families to remain engaged.”

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Ten informational meetings are planned at district high schools between Jan. 9 and 13. They include one at Plant on Jan. 11 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Meetings at the same time will take place Jan. 9 at Middleton and Plant City high schools; Jan. 10 at Sumner and Brandon; Jan. 11 at Leto; Jan. 12 at Gaither and Sickles; and Jan, 13 at Wharton and Bloomingdale.