District considers boundary changes

Officials prepare for a new elementary school and also a new way of drawing attendance zones.

Published January 9, 2007

INVERNESS - Hundreds of students could switch schools when a new elementary school opens in August 2008, according to a recent memo that also proposes changing the way the district redraws attendance zones.

The attendance zones are likely to remain the same for the upcoming school year, which starts Aug. 20. But families should brace for "significant modifications" when the new elementary school in Citrus Spring opens in fall 2008.

Chuck Dixon, the school district's director of planning and growth management, said it's too early to know the extent of the changes. But he said the new school, which can house as many as 810 students, will likely draw students from crowded Citrus Springs Elementary and other surrounding primary schools.

The changes are necessary to meet smaller class sizes and bring down transportation costs.

If the School Board approves the revamped procedures for changing school boundaries, children could wind up switching schools more often. The board will vote on the proposal at a meeting today; it is not considering any changes to attendance zones at this time.

The most recent boundary changes happened in 2005, when officials proposed shifting more than 300 Lecanto High School students to the district's other two, less-crowded high schools. But after dozens of angry families complained that the plan was unfair and poorly conceived, the School Board scrapped the proposal and allowed more students to stay.

Dixon, who was not involved in the most recent rezoning, said a new approach to rezoning is needed to make sure the process is more transparent, efficient and fair.

"The district has never had clearly defined procedures to follow," he said.

During the past 10 years, Dixon wrote in a memo, decisions were made depending on the person in charge. Large committees of school principals, district administrators and community members sometimes took more than a year to decide how to address school overcrowding and to draft new attendance zones.

Under Dixon's proposed approach, the district would do away with committees and instead use a software system called Edu-log that relies on maps and attendance data to balance school populations. Using this technology, Dixon said, the district would considerably cut the time it takes to draft a map with new attendance zones.

Transportation officials use the same program now to determine bus routes.

The district would still seek public input before the School Board makes any changes, Dixon said. As in years past, the district would hold a "neighborhood stakeholder meeting," during which parents and students could voice concerns about a rezoning plan. Families could also offer feedback through the mail.

Based on the public's input, district staffers could decide to make changes to the plan. The School Board would hold a public hearing and vote on a final plan.

Dixon said the model has worked well in fast-growing Marion County, which for the past 16 years has followed more or less the same guidelines to determine school assignments.

If Citrus approves changing its approach, Dixon said, it will be easier to redraw school boundaries whenever the district is hard-pressed to ease crowding at a school.

"We have no problems with lots of public input," Dixon said. "We just want to make the process well-defined and as clear as possible."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at 860-7305 or eramirez@sptimes.com.