Asked to reach consensus Thursday on a cost-saving plan to change attendance boundaries, Hillsborough County School Board members instead compiled a long list of desired enhancements.
They called for more dual-language programs and performing arts magnets, better reading instruction for young children, child care, and specialty classes that continue seamlessly from middle to high school.
Such improvements could help district schools better compete as more families opt for charter schools, board members said. The total cost of the wish list was unknown.
Board Chairperson Nadia Combs, looking at the items that Superintendent Addison Davis wrote down during the three-hour workshop, said it resembled “a Lamborghini when we should be ride-sharing.”
Board member Jessica Vaughn said it is important to consider ways to become more competitive before closing under-enrolled schools such as Kimbell and Cleveland elementary schools, as Davis has proposed.
“I would rather take these schools, where we have very engaged communities, and look at partial repurposing and putting in some of these innovative programs that really speak to what I am hearing the communities want,” Vaughn said. “Because ultimately the way that I think that we deal with our financial situation is (to) attract as many students back to our schools.”
The seven members agreed on a few key points:
- They should consider opening more K-8 schools, a format popular in the charter sector. In Carrollwood, a parents’ group has already developed a plan to turn their neighborhood elementary into a K-8 school.
- The district should not sell any schools, even if some are closed temporarily to students. Those contemplated for sale include Just Elementary, an F-graded school that is more than half empty and staffed largely with substitute teachers. While Davis insists that Just’s remaining 280 students should be transferred elsewhere in August, board members want to hold onto the building in case it is needed years from now.
- Students should attend schools in their own neighborhoods. This approach goes against steps taken in prior decades to use “satellite” attendance zones to break up racial segregation. Today’s reality, school officials say, is that neighborhoods are increasingly diverse, with Hispanic students accounting for 38% of the district’s total enrollment.
Members still disagreed on some crucial points.
Combs insisted, as she has in the past, that something must be done soon to free up money to pay teachers, who still have not completed contract negotiations for the current school year.
But Vaughn and board member Patti Rendon both used the word “Band-Aid” to describe the compromise plan that Davis released on Feb. 9 with slight modifications on Feb. 24. Vaughn and board member Henry “Shake” Washington remained critical of the way the project was released to the public.
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“We overlooked not having enough parent input,” Washington said. “If they don’t think you have what’s best for their kid, they aren’t going to be on board.”
NAACP branch president Yvette Lewis, who was at the workshop, said her organization is opposed to Davis’ plan.
Four votes are needed before Davis can implement the plan, which is expected to save about $13 million a year by using space more efficiently. Originally intended to take effect in the coming school year, the amended plan phases in most of the changes beginning in August 2024.
There is no firm timetable. Davis said he wants his staff to enjoy spring break, which begins this weekend. When they return on March 20, he said, they will look for ways to incorporate the board’s suggestions into another version of the plan.
At that point, he said, it will be advertised for 21 days and then the board will vote on it twice.
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