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  1. The Education Gradebook

Forum scheduled to present plan for redrawing school boundaries in Hernando

Published Aug. 30, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — Parents and other interested residents will have one more chance to discuss a rezoning of Hernando County schools that, so far, has avoided the acrimony often associated with the process.

School staffers will host a community forum to explain the current plan at 5 p.m. Thursday at Central High School.

One reason the process has gone smoothly, some staffers said, is that the School Board avoided controversial ideas for creating space in the district's most crowded schools, including moving the International Baccalaureate and magnet programs.

The other reason, said Sophia Watson, supervisor of adult and technical education, is the community forums themselves. The forums, which allow residents to see rezoning plans and offer suggestions, are new with this round of redrawing school boundaries.

"I feel like we're getting really good two-way communication, and not just in the final round" of the process, said Watson, one of the leaders of the redistricting committee.

The school district takes on rezoning schools about every five years, but the need has been especially urgent recently because of an increased disparity in school capacity.

Three of the county's five high schools, for example, were either near or over their design capacities last school year, while Central High School was slightly more than half full.

Pine Grove Elementary School and West Hernando Middle School, which are near Central on Ken Austin Parkway, west of Brooksville, were also less than 60 percent full.

A committee of school employees and volunteers came up with three redistricting plans. The most dramatic included proposals to close Spring Hill Elementary School, move the IB program from overcrowded Springstead High School, and relocate the magnets to Pine Grove and West Hernando from Chocachatti Elementary School and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics.

Those moves were opposed by several parents at a previous community forum, and the board chose not to go forward with them at a workshop on Aug. 11.

"I'm not in favor of a change to the magnets. I like the way they perform," School Board member Matt Foreman said at the time.

Also, Foreman said, the district has already committed resources to improve struggling Spring Hill Elementary.

"With respect to the closing of Spring Hill Elementary School, in light of everything the district is doing to turn it around, I think that would be a huge detriment," he said.

The only program that will move under current plan is the school of environmental science at J.D. Floyd K-8 School in Spring Hill. Starting next school year, when the new zones are implemented, that program will be at West Hernando, and J.D. Floyd will return to its former status as an elementary school.

Otherwise, the plan entails redrawing of school zone boundaries throughout the county. The result, according to district documents: All of the county's schools, other than those with magnet programs, will be at less than 90 percent capacity.

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"We hope this will give us wiggle room for at least a few more years," Watson said.

Maps showing exactly how boundaries have been redrawn will be available at Thursday's forum. Committee members will listen to objections and, possibly, use them to redraw the lines.

A final plan will be presented to the School Board for approval on Sept. 29.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

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