Hillsborough’s school boundaries plans: schools closed, thousands affected

The Hillsborough County School District could close half a dozen schools and use them for other purposes, according to plans released Tuesday after months of development by a consultant.

Several other campuses would be partially “repurposed”, meaning they could share space with district offices, kindergartens or adult education centres.

The scenarios are contained in three proposals for redetermining school attendance limits with the aim of increasing efficiency. The most ambitious option would see 24,000 students assigned to different schools over the next year.

Some would leave popular schools that have become too crowded. Others would leave schools that had long struggled with low enrollments and poor grades.

“This is bold for us,” Superintendent Addison Davis said, describing the recommendations of New York consultant WXY Studio, who has been working with the district since the spring.

“But it is necessary. We must ensure we are fiscally responsible and maximize every dollar we spend at each facility.”

Related: As Hillsborough considers new school limits, many families aren’t tuned in

The schools involved include Just Elementary, a West Tampa institution whose enrollment shrank to 283 students with the closure of the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex, and Adams Middle of North Tampa, which is less than half full with 597 students and has had since 2019 State grade D

John Quincy Adams Middle School at 10201 N Boulevard in Tampa is one of several campuses under discussion as the Hillsborough County school district considers consolidating some buildings and redrawing attendance limits.
John Quincy Adams Middle School at 10201 N Boulevard in Tampa is one of several campuses under discussion as the Hillsborough County school district considers consolidating some buildings and redrawing attendance limits. [ Hillsborough County Public Schools ]

Elsewhere in the district, elementary schools have between 500 and 900 students, while middle schools sometimes have 1,000 or more.

Cleveland and Kimbell Elementary Schools would find new uses under one of the three plans. The same is true for Monroe Middle in South Tampa and McLane Middle in Brandon, which has had large numbers of buses from East Tampa arriving for decades.

It is not yet clear which new uses will be involved: options are magnet schools, training centers or perhaps affordable housing for teachers.

District leaders say they will not give up any of those buildings because state law would allow privately run charter schools to claim them.

However, this law does not apply to district office buildings. According to operations chief Chris Farkas, one scenario is to sell some of the district’s office buildings and let employees work in some of the schools that are to be partially repurposed. You might find such a use for part of Chamberlain High School, Greco Middle, or Jennings Middle.

The biggest source of uncertainty is how the public will react to these plans, as nothing of the sort has been attempted in Hillsborough recently.

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WXY and the district unveiled an interactive web tool Tuesday night that allows users to enter any address or school and see proposed boundary changes.

Reflecting on the reactions, Davis said, “I want to be as aggressive as possible. But I also want to be as sensitive to the community as possible.”

While the vast majority of previous prospects are parents, homeowners without children are also involved as their property values ​​are impacted.

Anyone using the interactive tool can post comments, which are forwarded to school board members.

Then the board decides how to proceed. A decision is expected shortly, in time for the new limits for the 2023-24 school year to come into effect.

Money is a driving concern. District leaders, controlled by the state for their spending, say they are trying to maximize efficiency. With more than 60 schools vacant by a third or more, they say these plans can save up to $31 million a year in operating costs. And since the district doesn’t have to build as many new schools, there’s also a potential savings of $163 million in capital costs.

The “conversion plan” also creates opportunities to try out new ventures. Newcomer centers offering services to newcomers, teacher training and counseling centers are just a few examples. Magnet programs could be opened in suburban communities that didn’t have them in the past.

While the boundary changes would go into effect in August, some specialty centers could take years to fund and organize.

Among the many possible consequences of this plan is an exodus of unfortunate families from county schools to charter schools or private schools now accessible through government scholarships.

But two of the three plans include a proposal that will make one community happy: expanding Carrollwood Elementary School to a K-8 format.

Related: Hillsborough pushes back public gatherings to January for school boundary changes

Though the plans address multiple needs in the district, officials said there will be no dramatic impact on concentrated poverty, which is often cited as a factor in poor academic performance at some schools.

Davis and Farkas said they didn’t want to change poverty rates too much because such changes would require them to provide more services at a larger number of schools. The plans show that the number of schools with 80% or more students receiving free lunches – a common measure of school poverty – will remain relatively unchanged.

The district leaders and their advisors also recognize that part of the community most directly affected — urban North and East Tampa — has been slow to engage in the project.

The majority of people who participated in virtual meetings and online polls were white. There was little turnout from the predominantly black Electoral District 5, where many of Hillsborough’s schools are understaffed.

Ten in-person community meetings are planned for mid-January, and Davis said the district will make special efforts to include black residents.

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