The long process of finalizing controversial school boundary changes proposed by the Hillsborough County School District is going to take just a little bit longer.
In an email to parents on Jan. 25, Superintendent of Schools Addison Davis wrote that his recommendations, after weeks of community meetings, would not be presented to the School Board on Jan. 31, as expected, and would instead be provided to the parents and the Board at a workshop now scheduled for Monday, February 13 at 10 a.m.
Please note that no public comment is permitted at School Board workshops.
The Board also will hold special meetings on Tuesday, February 28, and Thursday, March 9.
The email also said that between the workshop and the special meetings, five new community meetings would be held. The closest to New Tampa, which isn’t impacted as much as other parts of the District, would be held on Monday, February 20, 6 p.m., at King High on N. 56th St.
The School District, which paid New York architectural firm WXY Studio $567,000 to help with the new boundaries, has developed three scenarios, and as many as 24,000 students throughout Hillsborough County could be shifted to new schools. More than 100 of the District’s 303 schools could be affected by a process designed to save millions of dollars by improving efficiency, addressing imbalances in enrollment — some schools are overcrowded while others are so far below capacity that they may have to be repurposed — and reducing travel.
“When we look at schools that are being overutilized, those are (schools) operating at 110% (of their capacities) or greater,” Davis said. “Underutilized is 60% or under, and we have 24 schools that must be addressed.”
Many schools in New Tampa could be affected, although none are in danger of being repurposed.
In all three scenarios proposed by the District, for example, 133 students at Heritage Elementary and 49 students at Pride Elementary would be moved to Hunter’s Green Elementary.
Pride is currently at 124 percent utilization, though losing 49 students would still keep it over capacity, at 119 percent. Heritage currently is at 111 percent, but after losing students to Hunter’s Green, would be at a more desirable 95 percent.
Hunter’s Green is currently at 84%, and the influx of new students would put it at 101% of its capacity.
Each scenario means different things for different schools. The only New Tampa public schools not affected in some way are Clark and Tampa Palms Elementary schools.
In Scenario 1, Heritage, Pride, Hunter’s Green, Chiles Elementary and Liberty Middle School would be affected by losing or gaining students.
In Scenario 2, Wharton, Liberty, Benito Middle School, Turner/Bartels K-8 School, Heritage, Hunter’s Green, Chiles and Pride elementaries are affected.
In Scenario 3, the most aggressive of the three proposals, nearly 1,000 students combined at Pride, Hunter’s Green, Heritage, Wharton, Freedom, Chiles and Liberty would be affected.
On paper, it looks as if many students that are bused into New Tampa schools would remain closer to their neighborhood schools instead, saving on travel costs during a time when the district has a bus driver shortage. Changes like Wharton losing 423 students to King (Scenario 2), Chiles losing 112 to Mort (all three scenarios) and Liberty losing 329 to Buchanan (Scenario 1) or 329 to Adams (Scenario 2) middle schools appears to point towards a reduction in bused students, as opposed to moving New Tampa residents.
All of the numbers presented so far can change, as Davis takes into account all of the public feedback — 15,000 people have attended community meetings (including the one held at Wharton on Jan. 13), and the district’s website (HCPS-boundary.org/home) has had more than 335,000 page views, 126,000 address searches and 15,500 comments on the interactive map.
“The School Board will make the final decision, and they could take any recommendations (by Davis) and make changes to those,” said Hillsborough Schools spokesperson Erin Maloney. “There’s still a lot of stuff to work out, and none of the numbers you are looking at are final.”
The delay means parents like Dawn Eagle will have to wait a little longer to find out the fate of their children for the 2023-24 school year. She was one of roughly 100 parents to attend the Jan. 13 community meeting at Wharton, hoping to learn her options.
Scenario 2 would move 163 kids from Benito, including Eagle’s daughter, 6th grader Jessica, to Turner-Bartels.
Eagle already has put her sons, who are now at Wharton, through Heritage Elementary and Benito, and would like Jessica to follow the same path.
“It’s closer to our home and all we’ve ever known,” she said. “We know the administration, we know the teachers. We’ve had a great experience and we don’t want to disrupt that.”
But Eagle’s concerns go further than that. Jessica is in the orchestra at Benito, and Turner-Bartels doesn’t offer orchestra. Also, driving from their home in K-Bar Ranch to Turner-Bartels in Live Oak Preserve would be far more inconvenient.
The Eagles have options, like school choice or magnet schools, and Dawn hopes if Scenario 2 or some version of it is chosen, she would be able to use school choice so her daughter could stay at Benito.
“I do appreciate trying to set up these scenarios and having discussions so the community can be heard,” Eagle says. “I appreciate the effort being made. I understand they’re trying to do a job and everything comes down to money. That’s unfortunate but I get the reality. But logistically, this restructuring for our neighborhood doesn’t make sense.”