SouthShore parents, students fret about proposed high school boundary changes

A housing boom may lead to attendance boundary changes at East Bay and Riverview high schools.
East Bay High School students protest the proposed attendance boundary changes that would send some classmates to other high schools. The girls aren't affected by the proposed changes but say many of their friends will be impacted. The girls carried signs to a recent parent meeting at East Bay High on the proposed changes. Pictured, left to right, are: Megan Cooper, Emily Anderson, Justice Bulerin and Valeria Castaneda. The school district says growth in southern Hillsborough County may lead them to adjust attendance boundaries. Photo by Monica Bennett.
East Bay High School students protest the proposed attendance boundary changes that would send some classmates to other high schools. The girls aren't affected by the proposed changes but say many of their friends will be impacted. The girls carried signs to a recent parent meeting at East Bay High on the proposed changes. Pictured, left to right, are: Megan Cooper, Emily Anderson, Justice Bulerin and Valeria Castaneda. The school district says growth in southern Hillsborough County may lead them to adjust attendance boundaries.Photo by Monica Bennett.
Published December 18 2014

Chase Spencer is relishing a perfect freshman year at East Bay High School.

He posts good grades and joined two sports teams. He's also making friends and close bonds. When he booted his first soccer goal for the Indians, the team celebrated by carrying him on their shoulders. The brotherly act made his parents cry.

But Spencer's time at East Bay High may be short. He and hundreds of others high school students might be forced to move to another school in August due to a housing explosion in southern Hillsborough County.

"It's home," said Chase, 14. "I always wanted to be an East Bay Indian."

A development boom in southern Hillsborough is pushing school district leaders to consider tinkering with high school attendance boundaries to manage growth.

District officials said East Bay High in Gibsonton is about 300 students over capacity.

"We just can't have that many kids at a school," said Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman for the school district.

The boundary proposal would send some East Bay High students to Riverview High in Riverview or Lennard High in Ruskin. And, some Riverview High students would move to Spoto High in Riverview or Brandon High in Brandon.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the district built four new high schools in the area to keep pace with the new housing subdivisions. The boom slowed for several years, but now it is back in full swing. Signs announcing new residential developments blanket much of southern Hillsborough.

Noticing that housing starts were on the upswing, the district moved to expand Lennard High School. A two-story, 20-classroom addition will open in August and accommodate about 500 students.

This past August, the district addressed overcrowding in younger grade levels by opening Thompson Elementary School in Ruskin. It also will open the new Lamb Elementary School on S 78th Street to help alleviate crowding at Ippolito and Frost elementaries.

And, in August 2016, a new middle school will open on Balm Road near Route 301 in Riverview.

The Lennard addition will help but not solve all the growth problems at the high-school level. The district says it needs to adjust the attendance boundaries to balance enrollment and prepare for future growth. There are currently no plans to build another high school.

As the plan stands now, the boundary changes would affect about 547 current ninth- and 10th-graders. Current juniors at East Bay and Riverview do not have to switch schools. Numbers for incoming ninth-graders can't be calculated yet because some students will select magnet, private or charter schools over their home school.

Spencer, a freshman who lives in Apollo Beach, doesn't want to go to Lennard. He wants to attend the same school as his brother Luke, who graduated in 2008. His parents are furious he might be forced to go.

The Spencers attended a parent meeting last week at East Bay about the proposed changes. They viewed maps and vented to district officials.

"To uproot him is inexcusable," said Chase's father, Tony Spencer. "He's committed himself to this school. The school (district) isn't committed to him."

Christina Howard and her family went to a similar community meeting about the proposed changes at Riverview High last week.

The Howards live near Riverview High. Christina Howard recently retired from the military. She and her husband bought their new house in April specifically so their daughter, a 10th-grader, could continue to go to Riverview High.

"We retired here because we wanted to give her that stability," Christina Howard said. "She's comfortable here. She likes her teachers and she's involved with sports."

Howard said her daughter had previously struggled in school, in part because of the frequent moves that face many military families. Now, their daughter is doing well academically and socially and they don't want anything to impede that.

"She's settled and progressing and I'd hate to move her," Howard said.

Alexis Fields, a 10th-grader at East Bay High, has cried often at the thought she might have to switch to Lennard. Her mom, dad and several other family members have all attended East Bay.

"I want to stay," the Apollo Beach teen said.

District officials say the school board has not signed off on any changes yet.

"These are all proposals," Arja said. "Nothing is set in stone yet."

After hearing from students and parents, Arja said, the staff will prepare a proposal and submit it to the School Board in January.

Students and families can contact the district for more information or to express their concerns at (813) 272-4608 or [email protected] To review maps of the proposed boundary changes go to sdhc.k12.fl.us.

Times Correspondent Candace Rotolo contributed to this report. Contact Monica Bennett at [email protected]

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