Protests don't halt shift of kids from school

The change means 537 children will leave Bryant for Citrus Park, which already uses portable classrooms.

Published April 5, 2006

TAMPA - Their children attend the county's most crowded school.

But parents at Bryant Elementary School in northwest Hillsborough County begged the School Board Tuesday night to keep their children at the packed school.

"Our hearts are there," said parent Jacquie Singleton, who lives in the Westchester subdivision across the street from Bryant. "Our homes are there. Please don't move our community."

About 40 parents took their maps, their frustrations and their own proposals to the board meeting. For almost two hours, they asked that their children not be sent to a temporary campus of portable classrooms at Citrus Park Elementary until a new school is built.

But despite the pleas, board members approved an attendance boundary by a 5-2 vote for the unbuilt and unnamed Elementary I.

The district will split the Bryant boundary in half along Race Track Road and move 537 students in the fall until the new school is built in about a year. The move will drop Bryant's capacity from 187 percent to 110 percent, when class-size restrictions are considered.

Board members Jennifer Faliero and Susan Valdes, the only two members with school-age children, voted against the change.

Several members said the decision was difficult but necessary as the district tries to get a better grip on student growth.

The boundary changes at Bryant are just one of several on the way. District officials have proposed sweeping attendance zone shifts for 20 schools in west Hillsborough to better distribute enrollment. The changes will affect more than 1,500 students.

"Really to me it is the most sensible way to do this as painful as it is," said board member Carol Kurdell.

Several parents, including those who live in the Twin Branch Acres and Fawn Ridge subdivisions, asked to be left at Bryant because their communities have been rezoned to numerous schools as new schools have opened.

Twin Branch resident Lizz Greenberg told the board members how children in neighborhood have been sent to Baycrest, Bellamy, Lowry, Westchase and finally Bryant, where they want to stay.

"This school is 3 miles from our homes," she said. "What we request is seniority."

The argument was the same for Fawn Ridge resident Robin Weston, who has an 8-year-old son at Bryant.

"If this was our first move, we would not feel as strongly," he said. "Our children will be punished because of these multiple moves."

Some parents questioned the safety of the portable classrooms at Citrus Park, which are being used by students there as the district completes a renovation project.

Joanna Gele said she toured the classrooms and found rusty rails, sagging ceiling tiles and mildew.

"I do not find this an acceptable enough environment for my children," she said.

Board member Faliero, who also toured the Citrus Park facilities, said she was disturbed by the conditions of the portables.

"I can't believe we have children in those portables now," she said. "I went inside of them. I have allergies. In some of them I had to leave the room.

"How could we have allowed kids to go this year?"

Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia told Faliero and parents her administrators would improve the condition of the portables.

"I'm concerned that I'm a board member and I reported this," Faliero said.

"I'm concerned as well," Elia replied.

In other business, the board agreed to convert James K-8 School in East Tampa to an elementary school and transfer the middle-school children to area magnet schools.

--Melanie Ave can be reached at 813 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com