TAMPA, Fla. - A new year might mean new schools for thousands of Hillsborough County students. As the district prepares to hold in-person meetings this month to allow people to share their opinion about proposed boundary changes, many are saying the structure of the gatherings won't allow them to get all the answers they're looking for.
In a "Call to Action" post on their public Facebook page, the PTA council said, as far as they know, the meetings that will be held from January 9-13 have "no formal presentation, just printed copies of the maps, laptops for online comments, and there will be district and WXY employees available to answer individual questions."
They added that the "science-fair style kind of setup is not what we consider to be authentic community education and engagement. It limits who has information and doesn’t provide context or public information for the community to come up with questions."
Ten in-person meetings will go from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on the following days at the following high schools:
- Middleton and Plant City on Jan. 9
- Sumner and Brandon on Jan. 10
- Plant and Leto on Jan. 11
- Gaither and Sickles on Jan. 12
- Wharton and Bloomingdale on Jan. 13
There are three different scenarios that the district and consultant group, WXY from NY, proposed in December that could force between 11,000 and 24,000 students to change schools. But parents say the impact extends beyond that – to their children’s well-being, their relationships, and property values in neighborhoods.
"My message to them would be like, 'Let's hit the pause button,'" said parent Luke Posson. "I think that we need to do a much better job of understanding what the impact is on the emotional and psychological well-being of our kids. I need we need to understand what's going to be the impact to the elderly, to seniors, to property owners that don't have kids in the area. I think that it's being pushed through way too fast."
While many have pushed back on the options, some parents and teachers in underserved districts see potential benefits in a new plan.
"More than 98% of our kids are not choosing to stick with our zoned middle school." Carrollwood K-8 initiative parent Krista Mills said. "So, with the boundary analysis, we would really like to see our kids stay together and preserve that feeder pattern."
The district and consulting group gave people a map that can be used as an online tool to see what each scenario means for their school zones.
In the Facebook post, A PTA council representative said in next week's meetings, they would love to hear more from the makers of the maps, particularly about what assumptions are baked into them.
The boundary map page can be viewed here: www.hcps-boundary.org.
They also want to know more from the district about the data that supports the estimated capital and annual savings shown for each scenario. They also want to learn more about transportation and what will happen to re-purposed schools.
Tanya Arja, Chief of Communications, Hillsborough County School District did respond to the "Call to Action" post on Jan. 1 with the following statement:
We look forward to the upcoming boundary meetings which will provide families an opportunity to ask questions regarding their specific situation.
A formal presentation regarding the process and recommendations was provided via a webinar and illustrated online for public feedback.
We set the upcoming meetings for two hours so that parents and community members can come at any point during that time and talk with representatives from WXY Studio and district staff.
With 250 schools in our district and thousands of families, the vast majority of the questions will likely be specific to each family’s situation.
Our IT team will also be there to ensure everyone can provide their feedback online.
The council is urging anyone with concerns about the structure of the meetings to consider immediately writing to the superintendent and school board with the message: "Please provide an in-person group presentation and Q&A at the galleria walkthroughs." The district continues to accept feedback online up until January 13.
The board has continued to stress that none of these scenarios are final and could be changed before a final decision is made in February.