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Schools

Board tackles school zones

By TOM MARSHALL
Published January 29, 2007


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SPRING HILL - Everyone can't wait for the district's new elementary school to open in the fall of 2008 and provide relief for overcrowded neighboring schools.

But before that pleasant day arrives, the Hernando County School Board will face a most unpleasant task: deciding which students can attend.

Creating room in the heart of densely populated Spring Hill for the new K-8 school at Northcliffe Boulevard and Azora Road will force adjustments to most other school zones in the district.

"We're saying at this point that no school zone should be sacred," school services director James Knight told the board in December.

Like Social Security, the "third rail" of American politics, redrawing school attendance zones has been described as the political equivalent of suicide.

Because when families learn their school zones might change, board members hear about it.

Beginning at 4:30 p.m. today, that process begins in earnest.

Parents and administrative representatives from each school in Hernando County are scheduled to convene at a board workshop in the district transportation office, 3339 California St., to begin the process of rezoning the school district.

The board hopes to vote on a new district map by November, after a series of public meetings and hearings.

Already the agenda is crowded with proposals to make the school system more equitable for schools and families.

Special-needs students:

While the new $55-million "Elementary J," as it is known, will be zoned for neighborhood attendance, district officials hope to reserve some of its 2,117 seats for special-needs students currently attending West Hernando Middle School and Deltona Elementary School. Officials say that will help those ESE "center schools" make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools to show annual testing improvements among all groups of students.

Magnet schools:

Board members Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney have asked that the rezoning committee consider the possibility of rezoning the district's magnet schools - Chocachatti Elementary School, Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, and Nature Coast Technical High School - to allow some neighborhood children to attend them. Currently, students at those schools are admitted through a lottery and portfolio system, which means neighborhood families must apply for admission.

High school overcrowding:

The committee must also draw boundaries for a planned high school on U.S. 19 north of Hexam Road. While that school is not scheduled to open until 2010, Knight said it's possible the committee will "shuffle" some students between Hernando and Central high schools in the meantime to reduce high school overcrowding - something that riled families at both schools when it was last tried in 2005.

If the zone around "Elementary J" measures 1.5 miles in diameter, about 1,460 elementary and middle school students from its Spring Hill neighborhood would be eligible to attend, Knight said.

That would bring some relief to overcrowded Spring Hill, Deltona and J.D. Floyd elementary schools - though just how much relief won't be known until the fall of 2008, when students actually show up to enroll.

But it's fairly certain that "Elementary J" would be eligible for federal Title 1 assistance on the day it opens, due to the proportion of low-income families living nearby.

"Because there's a lot of multi-family housing around that school," Knight said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.

[Last modified January 29, 2007, 06:43:06]


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