PTA leaders raise concerns as Hillsborough explores new school boundaries

Members are being encouraged to call for more public dialogue and information.
The school board's regular meeting at the Hillsborough County school district headquarters at 901 E Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa, pictured here, will coincide with early community meetings on a plan to change school boundaries.
The school board's regular meeting at the Hillsborough County school district headquarters at 901 E Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa, pictured here, will coincide with early community meetings on a plan to change school boundaries. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021) ]
Published Jan. 1|Updated Jan. 1

A plan to redraw attendance boundaries for Hillsborough County public schools lacks transparency and public dialogue, according to a parent organization that is pushing for change.

The County Council of PTA/PTSA, which represents parent groups around the school district, says information released last month online does not offer enough detail about transportation, cost savings, and what the district would do with schools that it might close or “repurpose.”

The council also disapproves of the format for a series of upcoming community gatherings. Planned from Jan. 9 to 13, these will be the first in-person meetings since the project consultant, New York-based WXY Studio, was hired in March.

“Right now, as far as we know, there will be no formal presentation, just printed copies of the maps, laptops for online comments, and there will be district and WXY employees available to answer individual questions,” the PTA council said in a “Call to Action” posted Saturday on social media.

“This kind of set up is not what we consider to be authentic community education and engagement. It limits who has information and doesn’t provide context or public information for the community to come up with questions.”

The document urges parents to contact school board members and district leaders and insist on more public dialogue before the board is asked to vote in February.

In redrawing boundaries, district leaders hope to use school space more efficiently and reduce their operating budget at a time of continued state concern over spending.

Related: Hillsborough’s school boundary plans: closed schools, thousands affected

Ten 5:30-7:30 p.m. gatherings are planned at these high schools: Middleton and Plant City on Jan. 9, Sumner and Brandon on Jan. 10, Plant and Leto on Jan. 11, Gaither and Sickles on Jan. 12, and Wharton and Bloomingdale on Jan. 13.

The gatherings are designed primarily to help residents understand boundary plans that were released Dec. 13 on WXY’s interactive website. The two Jan. 10 meetings will coincide with a regularly scheduled 4 p.m. school board meeting.

Related: South Tampa parents organize against school rezoning proposals

In a written response to the PTA statement, school district communications chief Tanya Arja said the meeting format makes the most sense for a district as large as Hillsborough’s.

“We set the upcoming meetings for two hours so that parents and community members can come at any point during that time and talk with representatives from WXY Studio and district staff,” Arja said.

“With 250 schools in our district and thousands of families, the vast majority of the questions will likely be specific to each family’s situation.”

As for the need for a presentation, Arja said, “a formal presentation regarding the process and recommendations was provided via a webinar (on Dec. 13) and illustrated online for public feedback.”

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But the PTA organization also says the information released so far lacks backup material that would explain the financial benefits of the boundary changes. “We need more information and we suspect that you probably want more information too,” the statement said.

“We’d also like to learn more about bus transportation, and what will happen to the repurposed schools. Everyone should have access to this information and it should be shared in a group rather than individual setting.”

Despite their concerns, the PTA leaders wrote that they want the boundary project to be successful. “Authentic in-person education of the public at the galleria events will help achieve this goal,” they wrote.