Concerned citizens attended a public meeting at Plant City High School where school officials answered questions and offered feedback about the three redistricting scenarios.
Several dozen people showed up at Plant City High School’s cafeteria Monday night as officials from Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) continue to gather feedback from the community on draft boundary scenarios, engage with families, staff and community to address questions and concerns and re-share three draft scenarios that balance school utilization throughout the county.
Computers were set up and logged into a Website where parents could type in their home address and learn what changes, if any, would impact their students in each of the three scenarios. Physical maps of the scenarios were also displayed. Parents could also leave feedback about the scenarios.
These community engagement meetings follow an existing conditions study, conducted by a consultant team led by WXY Studio, found that 93 schools were underutilized (at less than 80 percent capacity), 70 schools were well utilized (between 80 and 95 percent capacity) and 53 schools were over utilized (at more than 95% capacity).
When creating the proposed boundary options, feeder patterns (keeping the same students together throughout their education journey as much as possible), community stability, distance to school and financial efficiency were considered. “We have to be fiscally responsible and efficient with our dollars,” said HCPS Chief of Operations Chris Farkas, who said that when he put his own address he discovered that in two of the scenarios his son would get moved to a different school. “My wife is not a happy camper,” he said.
It is estimated that, depending on which scenario is approved by the School Board, between 11,000 – 24,000 students throughout the county would be rezoned to different schools, impacting between 96 and 123 schools. While several schools would be repurposed
Later this month the project team will develop a final set of boundary scenarios for School Board’s further deliberation, which is expected to approve one of the scenarios, or a hybrid of them, in the near future. Boundary changes are expected to take effect for the 2023-2024 school year.
When Bell Creek Preserve resident Bob Flaherty moved from New York last July, he paid a premium to buy a house within Newsome High School’s boundaries because he thought its culture would be good fit for his daughter, who would be starting tenth grade. Like any concerned parent moving to a new place, he worried his daughter would have trouble making friends but she tried out for the school’s cheerleading squad, made the team and has acclimated well.
Then he found out the schools was planning to redraw school boundaries. In all three scenarios proposed she’d have to relocate to a different school. Scenarios one and two would mean a move to Sumner High School. Scenario three means a move to Riverview High School.
“Logically, I get it because my daughter tells me that when she walks through the second floor hallways it’s hard to move it’s so crowded but I work from home and can work anywhere and I chose this area for Newsome,” he said. “Her education matters and this is the closest things we could find to what she’s accustomed to in New York and that’s why this is so hard.”
He’s hoping they’ll be able to make some exceptions. “I’ll drive her to school myself if I have to,” he said. “I can’t uproot her life again.”
Farkas said that some students may be grandfathered (exempt from boundary changes) but that those decisions are made by the School Board. “Historically if students are entering their final year at a school they’re chosen to be grandfathered in,” he said.
Parents weren’t the only people who attended the meeting with concerns. One teacher who preferred to remain anonymous, said it’s not just students being affected but staff too. “If a school loses 100 students that’s three or four teachers that would lose their jobs at that school,” she said. “You’d have other staff displaced as well.”
While Farkas assured attendees that displaced principals, teachers and other staff would be reassigned to other schools, she’s worried a change could affect her. “I chose the school I’m working at because it’s close to my home,” she said.
Four more in-person meetings are scheduled for this week. Engage with HCPS staff on Jan. 12 from 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Gaither and Sickles High Schools or Jan. 13 at Wharton and Bloomingdale’s High School. For more information about the three boundary scenarios visit www.hcps-boundary.org.