Student surge defies zones

Overcrowding at several schools shows planned boundaries may need to be changed.

By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published September 4, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - In a perfect world, boundary rezoning helps school districts catch up on population growth and eliminate "bulges" of overcrowding.

But these days, Hernando County school officials are sprinting to keep up, amid signs that proposed boundary changes might not last more than two years.

"We're looking at this as if it's a crystal ball, and it's a little cloudy," Central High principal Dennis McGeehan said at a rezoning committee meeting last week. "We thought things would be static this year, but we have growth."

Nearly every neighborhood in the county will see changes to its school zones next year, as part of a rezoning effort to make room for a new, 2,200-student K-8 school off Northcliffe Boulevard in Spring Hill that was intended to bring relief from overcrowding.

But already this month there are surprises: After 10 days of classes, five schools are contending with about 350 extra students they weren't planning for.

The bulk of those new arrivals is clustered to the northwest, with 156 at Central High, 46 at West Hernando Middle School and 87 at Pine Grove Elementary. Powell Middle School has 35 extra students, and Nature Coast Technical High has 24.

Other schools have seen lower numbers this fall, with a 103-student decline at Spring Hill Elementary and 74 fewer students at Westside Elementary last week.

Districtwide, Hernando schools last Wednesday were just 110 students shy of the 22,567 students officials projected for that day. A year ago, the district was more than 300 students short of projections for the start of school.

More growth is expected by October, when the district has projected a 957-student annual gain to 23,278 students.

"Traditionally, we always gain students in October over the previous year," said Cindy Peters, director of management information systems.

Between now and then, officials may need to shift some teachers around in response to unexpected enrollment gains or losses.

But they will also need to break the news to families that school zones are changing next year. On Aug. 27, a rezoning subcommittee of the School Board was putting finishing touches on three maps showing new boundaries for elementary, middle and high schools.

The School Board plans to meet for a final workshop Sept. 18 to consider those changes, with public hearings in October and November and a final board vote in December, said student services director James Knight.

But the rezoning will have no effect on Deltona and Suncoast elementary schools, which are both slated to grow to 1,000 students or more.

To help them, Knight said, the committee is urging the School Board to quickly build an additional elementary school alongside a new high school planned for U.S. 19 north of Hexam Road.

Another is already planned for the Southern Hills Plantation development on the south side of Brooksville.

And at the urging of McGeehan and Pine Grove principal Dave Dannemiller, the committee agreed to recommend further rezoning within two years if enrollment growth puts unexpected pressure on schools.

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