Hillsborough County school boundary changes a focus in first of several town hall meetings

The Hillsborough County School District will hold a series of virtual town hall meetings this week to discuss possible changes to school boundaries.

Parents are also being asked to weigh in through an online survey: www.hcps-boundary.org.

Hillsborough is currently working with a consultant team led by WXY Studio to study current population and enrollment trends at schools across the district. District leaders are hoping to address growing disparities in school utilization.  

In a once sleepy southeastern Hillsborough County, more than a dozen schools are operating above capacity today. New schools are being built to try to keep pace with new housing developments, but schools continue to fill up and classrooms are becoming overcrowded.

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"My first-grader had 24 in his class at the start of the school year. They’re now down to 22, but that’s still a lot for the teacher, especially if there are kids with needs in the class that require a little bit more assistance," said Sessums Elementary parent Heather Davis.

Sessums is one of more than 50 schools in Hillsborough County where enrollment is above capacity. Elsewhere, however, school enrollment is on the decline. According to district data, some 44% of schools in Hillsborough are actually under-enrolled.

District leadership is looking into ways to spread kids out more evenly, whether through school boundary changes, re-purposing, or closing some schools altogether.  

Davis said she doesn’t want her kids in overcrowded classrooms, but, like many parents, she’s pretty attached to her current school.

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"It would break my heart if we were re-zoned because we love Sessums Elementary School. It’s a great school, only two miles from our house, and I would be really hurt if we had to go to a different school," said Davis.

But the district knows it needs to take a hard look at how they can best allocate resources. Running a school isn’t cheap. Superintendent Addison Davis said it’s hard to justify the substantial utility and staffing costs needed to keep a school open when classrooms are only half full.

This week’s virtual meetings will be held each night, Monday through Friday, starting at 6 p.m. Parents can sign up for a meeting and check out the district’s school capacity data here: www.hcps-boundary.org.