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Divided board opts for two unpopular schools options
Boundaries and magnet school entrance rules will change next year.
By TOM MARSHALL Times Staff Writer
Published November 8, 2007
"There is perception there is a two-school system," said Dianne Bonfield, who voted no.
BROOKSVILLE - With two votes, the Hernando County School Board resolved nagging questions Tuesday night on school boundaries and magnet admission policies.
By a 3-2 vote, the board approved a rezoning plan that will shift around a fifth of the district's 23,000 students to different elementary and middle schools next August. The changes were required under state law to accommodate construction of the new, 2,100-student "Elementary J" in Spring Hill.
Later, the board voted 4-1 to modify its procedures for entry into the district's three magnet schools, agreeing to end a preference for siblings in 2010 and increase the proportion of students admitted by portfolio rather than lottery.
Neither decision was popular, and for at least two board members, they were inextricably linked.
"Deep within my heart I feel we are remiss in not allowing some sort of attendance zone for Challenger K-8," said member Dianne Bonfield, who had pushed to open that magnet school for limited application-free admission to alleviate overcrowding in other buildings. "There is this perception there is a two-school system."
She voted against both proposals, and member John Sweeney joined her in opposing the rezoning plan.
Some parents asked for changes to the rezoning maps for more pragmatic reasons.
"If the rezoning is approved, my kindergartner will have to go to Moton Elementary, which is 9 miles away," said Kim Miller, a parent at J.D. Floyd Elementary. "This change will cause a hardship in my family."
Sweeney said they were right to complain.
"I don't think any child should commute 9 miles, or even 5 miles, in this day and age," he said.
The board also approved new zoning maps for high schools, but they won't take effect until the fall 2010 opening of a new school near U.S. 19 and Hexam Road.
And the board must still decide how many students will get school bus service for Elementary J. Because its neighborhood off Northcliffe Boulevard is densely populated, its attendance zone is too small to qualify for state transportation funding.
Board members have said they may transport some of the school's 2,100 students if they must cross busy roads, but might not be able to afford the annual cost of $1.5-million to bus them all.
Under the revised magnet procedures, the percentage of aptitude-based portfolio admissions will rise from 50 to 60 percent next year, and increase by 10 percent annually until lottery-based admissions are phased out.
Over the summer, some parents complained of the challenges of gaining magnet admissions, with sibling preferences taking many open seats at Challenger, Chocachatti Elementary and Nature Coast Technical High.
The board opted to target future admissions efforts toward students with aptitude, rather than interest, in the specialized programs. It also ordered a review of the portfolio system, to allay concerns it might be too subjective.
And it plans to review the magnet curriculum at Nature Coast, as well as vocational and technical programs at other county high schools.
While some members have questioned that curriculum's focus, depth or connection to work force needs, they said rumors that Nature Coast's program would be dismantled are unfounded.
"Some think we want to dramatically alter the program," said member Jim Malcolm. "That's not true."