Plan fractures community, parents say
Officials want to send more than 300 Ruskin students to Cypress Creek to ease crowding.
By Jan Wesner, Times Staff Writer
Published March 7, 2008
More than 300 students from Ruskin Elementary, including some who live across the street from the school, will attend Cypress Creek Elementary next year under a plan that opponents say cuts through the heart of a long-established community.
As proposed, about one-fourth of Ruskin Elementary's students would be sent to Cypress Creek, which is 6 miles north. The affected students would come from an area north of College Avenue and east of U.S. 41.
Steven Ayers, who oversees pupil assignment for the Hillsborough County schools, revealed the plan to about 30 parents at Ruskin Elementary on Feb. 27.
Ayers said he was there to take input back to district officials and that the plan still could be changed.
The move is necessary because Ruskin, at 181 percent capacity, is one of the most overcrowded schools in the county.
"It's hard on the community andit's hard on the staff when a school is that much over capacity," Ayers said.
The plan has some parents upset.
Manuel Bence, a teacher at Tomlin Middle School in Plant City, has two children who would be moved to Cypress Creek. He was born and raised in Ruskin and wanted his kids to attend what most people consider to be the community's main school.
"When I decided to become a teacher, I knew I wasn't going to get rich," he said. "But I knew where I wanted to live, where I wanted to raise my kids."
Nearly 69 percent of the students at Ruskin are Hispanic, and 63 percent are classified as economically disadvantaged. In some cases, three generations of the same family have attended the school.
Bence and other parents said the move would cause child care problems. His children go to the Ruskin Recreation Center after school. He wondered whether there would be a bus to take them there from Cypress Creek. Ayers said he wasn't sure.
Marie Muza, who works at Ruskin Elementary, said her children go to her mother-in-law's after school.
Her kids would remain at Ruskin, but grandma's house would be in the Cypress Creek district. That means they wouldn't be able to take the school bus to her house.
Five new schools have opened in southern Hillsborough since 2003, many near the newer subdivisions that line U.S. 301.
Marie Muza and her husband, Carlos Muza, said it's unfair that those communities got new schools before Ruskin.
Ayers pointed out that developers had to provide land for schools in many of the new subdivisions, so that made it easier for the district to build schools there. He also said a new elementary school next to Lennard High in Ruskin will hopefully be built within three years.
"They should start (building it) tomorrow," Carlos Muza said.
Marie Muza said it makes no sense to take kids who can walk to Ruskin Elementary and put them on a bus to Cypress Creek.
Ayers said the district has to draw the boundary in a way that will take in the most kids.
The overcrowding at Ruskin is the result of several factors, including growth, the class-size amendment and the fact that part of the school was torn down last year because of its deteriorated condition.
Most of the school's nearly 1,200 students attend classes in portables, and Ayers said those portables need to be moved to make room for new construction.
Cypress Creek, also overcrowded, will shift about 600 of its students to a new elementary school opening in Wimauma this fall.
And eventually, Ayers said, the Ruskin students moving to Cypress Creek will attend the new elementary school next to Lennard.
Still, overcrowding will continue, he said.
"They used to grow tomatoes in this part of town, but now they grow subdivisions," Ayers said.
Jan Wesner can be reached at email@example.com or 661-2439.