School boundary changes raise parental concerns in Lithia

hillsschools121616: Stowers Elementary is one of the schools that the district hopes to impact with boundary changes. File photo
hillsschools121616: Stowers Elementary is one of the schools that the district hopes to impact with boundary changes. File photo
Published Dec. 14, 2016

RIVERVIEW— Redrawing school boundaries is like playing a challenging game of chess, said Chris Farkas, chief facilities officer for the Hillsborough County School District.

Every move of a rook or knight impacts all the chess pieces on the board and, ultimately, someone is going to walk away disappointed.

"We want all families to love the schools they attend," Farkas said Monday night at a community meeting to discuss boundary changes in anticipation of the opening of a new elementary school next August in the Triple Creek subdivision in Riverview, east of Balm-Riverview Road and north of Triple Creek Boulevard.

Under the proposed boundary plan, students from Collins, Boyette Springs, Sessums, Stowers and Summerfield elementary schools would be reassigned to the yet-unnamed school known as Elementary C.

"We understand that a lot of parents have concerns when their children are reassigned," Farkas said. "Our challenge is to take their concerns into consideration while drawing boundary lines that make sense so our schools aren't over capacity."

A number of the parents attending the meeting at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview, however, say the school district's current boundary proposal doesn't come close to meeting that intent.

Among them was a contingent of parents from Channing Park, a neighborhood east of FishHawk Ranch that contains 350 homes with plans to add another 160.

Juliana McKiernan said she purchased her home in Channing Park so her grandson could attend the A-rated Stowers Elementary School, located in the Circa FishHawk neighborhood off Boyette Road.

She said she doesn't mind the fact that Stowers is seven miles from Channing Park, and her grandson passes two other schools — FishHawk Creek and Bevis — to reach Stowers.

But under the proposed boundary changes, the 105 elementary students in Channing Park would be reassigned to Elementary C.

While Elementary C is closer to Channing Park — 4.5 miles away — there currently are no plans to provide before- and after-school care. That's a deal breaker for McKiernan and other working parents in Channing Park.

"Sixty percent of the parents in Channing Park are two-income families who rely on before- and after-school care," resident Jerry Opela said.

Opela noted that the new school is located in a rural area with few child-care businesses that provide after-school programs. And there's no guarantee that the martial arts studios, YMCA and child-care centers that offer off-site after-school programs in FishHawk Ranch will pick up students from Elementary C.

"Moving these kids to Elementary C would be a logistical nightmare for parents," he said.

At the same time, Opela and other Channing Park residents acknowledge that Stowers is overcrowded and needs relief. Constructed for 972 students, Stowers opened in 2009 in the midst of the recession. To fill the school, the district reassigned students attending surrounding elementary schools, including Channing Park, which is within walking distance of FishHawk Creek Elementary.

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

In the seven years since, Farkas said, home construction has rebounded, new families have moved into Circa FishHawk and the school can no longer accommodate all of the students who were bused in to fill the school in 2009.

"Our goal is to have all schools at 95 percent capacity," Farkas said. "So, as an area grows, we have to readjust the boundaries as well as plan for the future by factoring in homes that are approved but not yet built."

He acknowledged that changing schools can be difficult.

"But 99 percent of the time, they end up loving the new school," Farkas said.

Concerns about after-school care can be addressed, he said. And, in some cases, based on comments from the public, the boundary lines can be readjusted.

"It's all negotiable," he said.

That's what worries Starling resident Keri Rehm. While the current boundary lines would keep her second-grader and 300 other Starling children at Stowers, "I don't have a lot of faith in the system," she said. She fears a last-minute change would place Starling in another school boundary zone.

She said the close proximity of Stowers to Starling permits her to frequently volunteer at the school.

"If a school is further away, you can't just pop in to volunteer for 30 minutes," Rehm said. "And less parental involvement can take a toll on the school's rating and on how well your child does."

Nevertheless, said Circa FishHawk resident Nathan Heath, something must be done to relieve Stowers.

"It's so crowded, my daughter's fourth-grade class spent a week in the hallway," he said. "The teachers are at their wit's end trying to control these large classes, and the children aren't learning the way they should. Something has to happen. It's only going to get worse. This proposal makes sense."

Farkas said his staff will review all of the comments from the meeting and have a revised boundary proposal ready for a school board vote in late February or early March.

Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at