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New boundary plan to reduce parents’ frustrations

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Liam Smith loves the swingset at Charles B. Williams Park in Westshore Palms, a Tampa neighborhood just south of I-275 and just west of N Lois Ave.

“You know, swinging is one way to connect to nature,” the 11-year-old said as he and a few other children played in the park Wednesday around sunset. “It’s the closest park to our house.”

But minutes later, Smith’s swing session was cut short.

He raced over to the nearby pavilion to fight for his education.

Hillsborough school leader says process of changing school boundaries has felt "rushed"

WFTS

There, Hillsborough County School Board Member Stacy Hahn fielded questions and concerns from parents, and students like Liam, about the district’s efforts to reshape its attendance boundaries.

According to Superintendent Addison Davis, the changes to boundaries are necessary to help the district better utilize district campuses and save money starting next school year.

Three separate scenarios would try to strike a better balance — in varied capacities — by sending students from the overcrowded schools to the under-enrolled campuses.

Depending on the scenario, some schools could be closed altogether to free up space for other district uses. Others could be partially repurposed once their student counts have been reduced. In the most impactful scenario, known as scenario three, the district would close seven schools and send 24,000 kids to different schools.

You can use this map to see how each scenario would impact each school and its enrollment.

Liam is one of many students and parents in the Westshore Palms neighborhood worried about scenarios two and three.

Right now, students, there are generally zoned to attend three Grade-A schools: Grady Elementary School, Coleman Middle School, and Plant High School.

Scenarios two and three would send them to lower-performing schools in the area.

“Liam will most likely — we’ll try for Choice if that does not work out — I think the private schools are pretty much all filled for next year — he would be homeschooled,” said his mom, Michele Gonzalez Smith.

However, there is a sliver of hope.

At the Wednesday night meeting at the park, she and other parents learned Hahn is “confident” will be able to keep students who live in her district — like Liam — in the schools they are zoned for currently.

“I feel confident because I know I’m putting up a good fight, and I’m not letting up,” Hahn told ABC Action News after the community meeting.

Hahn is also hopeful that other frustrations voiced by other parents in other meetings will also be addressed by the district.

During an upcoming school board workshop on Feb. 13, she said the district will work on a new boundary scenario — scenario 4 — that will attempt to allay those frustrations.

“What can you tell us about Scenario four?” ABC Action News asked her.

“I don’t know much about it myself, you know, other than it’s going to take into consideration a lot more of the specific needs of the community,” she said. “I’m excited for the workshop when I can hear specifics about what that new scenario is going to look like.”

During her meeting with parents Wednesday, Hahn also voiced support for slowing down the implementation of any boundary changes.

She said the process has felt “rushed” and that the superintendent and his staff rolled out the plans in a way “that was not very compassionate.”

“I don’t think the superintendent and staff did a great job pushing it out,” she told the crowd.

While Hahn would not commit to making a motion to push the implementation of any boundary changes to the 2024-2025 school year, she said that option is on the table.

Meanwhile, as parents continue to voice their frustrations and concerns with the process and proposals, the district has decided to delay its timeline.

According to an email sent to district parents, the superintendent will make his recommendation during the Feb. 13 workshop.

From Feb. 20-23, the district will host additional community meetings.

The board could vote on any boundary changes in a series of two readings on Feb. 28 and Mar. 9.

According to the email, the upcoming community meetings will take place at these five schools:

Hillsborough school leader says process of changing school boundaries has felt "rushed"

WFTS

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