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School zoning idea criticized

Parents of Westchase Elementary students, who don't live in the development, will have a chance to oppose the idea at today's hearing.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

TAMPA -- Westchase families were thrilled when Hillsborough Superintendent Earl Lennard said their development could keep all of its children in Westchase Elementary School.

But outside Westchase's deed-restricted enclaves, it's a different story.

Critics from neighboring subdivisions, none as large and few as affluent as Westchase, are lining up to oppose the announced Bryant Elementary boundaries at a School Board hearing today.

Most aggrieved are families from the Fawn Ridge community north of Westchase, and four neighborhoods south of Westchase, which the school district calls "Channel A."

The new elementary school, set to open in August, is in the Nine Eagles area near Countryway Boulevard and Race Track Road.

As the crow flies, a handful of Westchase enclaves are nearer to Bryant Elementary than either Fawn Ridge or Channel A. But Lennard is backing a plan that lets those students continue to attend Westchase Elementary, and buses students to Bryant from the more distant neighborhoods.

"Geographically, this makes no sense at all," said Mike Hauser of Pebblebrook, one of the Channel A subdivisions. "Westchase Elementary is 1.3 miles from our home, door to door. Bryant is 6.5 miles. . . . If anybody can look at this map and tell me it's a good idea, there's something wrong."

In addition to the distance issue, sending grade-school children from Channel A to Bryant Elementary will create havoc for parents who need afterschool care for their children, said Pebblebrook resident Steve Knecht.

"The camps pick up our kids from school, and they won't be able to do that anymore," Knecht said. "And the kids will be 5 miles away from home now. I talked to some of my neighbors, and they're up in arms about this. . . . A lot of them feel like it's a financial type of discrimination. That, because we're a lower-income neighborhood, we're being removed."

Parents in Westchase, a master-planned community with more than 3,000 homes, take great pride in Westchase Elementary. But with a student body of more than 1,400, the school needs relief, and that's how Bryant came about.

Lennard could have recommended sending children from the westernmost sections of Westchase to Bryant. But Westchase parents organized and implored that the community not be split.

"They want their own little city, and we're trying to prevent that," Hauser said.

Parents in Fawn Ridge oppose the plan, too.

"It just seems obvious that attendance should be decided by geographic proximity and the most direct busing route," said Anita Swingle, whose children are in the first and fifth grades at Westchase Elementary.

"I empathize with the School Board for not wanting to split communities, but Westchase has outgrown itself."

Fawn Ridge parents also resent the many times their children have had to change schools.

"Originally, Fawn Ridge kids went to Citrus Park Elementary, then Lowry Elementary, then Westchase Elementary," said Donna Patterson, who has two children at Westchase.

"For us to be moved again to Bryant would mean the fourth change in something like seven years. People in this neighborhood are just discouraged."

The School Board will vote on the plan today at its 3 p.m. meeting at the district office, 901 E Kennedy Blvd.

-- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or at

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