On October 24, 2023, the Hernando County School Board held a regular meeting to vote on a litany of issues. One item on the agenda, which has seen much-impassioned debate, was district-wide school rezoning. At Tuesday’s meeting, the final plan for school attendance boundaries for the 2024-2025 school year had its first reading by Jim Lipsey, District Planning, Design, and Construction Manager, and Sophia Watson, Director of Simpson Tech. These recommendations were originally presented by the rezoning committee at a workshop held on October 10 and then modified with the board’s consensus at the meeting. That workshop was preceded by three public forums that were held by the committee throughout the year to determine the best course of action before they presented their plan to the board.
“This plan proactively balances enrollment in high growth areas with available school capacity throughout the county while adhering to the primary and secondary priorities previously established by the board,” Lipsey said.
The final plan for high schools is as follows:
1. Enrollment will be balanced at Weeki Wachee High School by allowing Central and Hernando High attendance zones to “capture” areas that are currently within Weeki Wachee’s zone. These swaths of land include areas of projected growth.
2. A full zone for Nature Coast Technical High School is to be created to help “absorb” students from Springstead, Central, and Hernando High Schools.
3. Lipsey emphasized that this plan does not apply to current magnet students, meaning that students at a school like Nature Coast may remain there through graduation if they choose.
4. Transportation for magnet students will also not be impacted by the recommended rezoning.
5. Expansions were called for to provide more classrooms at Hernando, Weeki Wachee, and one of either Central or Nature Coast High Schools.
The final plan for middle schools:
1. “Pressure” will be relieved from Winding Waters by expanding the attendance zones at a pair of middle schools: Fox Chapel and West Hernando Middle Schools.
2. The attendance pressure at Powell Middle School will also be lessened by:
a. “enlarging a small portion” of the zone for Explorer K-8.
a. “contributing a small portion” of the K-8 middle school’s zone to Fox Chapel.
3. The zone at West Hernando will be expanded to accommodate the projected growth surrounding Powell and Parrott Middle Schools.
The final plan for elementary schools:
1. Pine Grove and Spring Hill Elementary zones will expand to relieve pressure at Winding Waters K-8.
2. The expansion of Spring Hill Elementary’s boundary will be done to accommodate elementary growth at Explorer.
3. Attendance zones for Explorer and Westside will expand into areas that are currently zoned for Suncoast Elementary to help with growth along the county line corridor.
4. Projected attendance pressure on Moton Elementary will be relieved by:
a. Suncoast’s newly “freed up” capacity.
b. J.D. Floyd Elementary is being allocated a portion of Moton’s zone.
5. The two schools to be most heavily impacted by the growth in the eastern portion of the county will be Eastside and Moton. In response to this, a portion of Eastside’s zone will be moved to Moton, while some of Moton’s will be shifted to Brooksville Elementary.
Despite all of these adjustments, Lipsey states that expansion at Eastside Elementary is still necessary due to the growth projected to take place. Other recommendations offered by the committee’s plan:
1. “Choice” students should be allowed to remain at their schools.
2. Students in their last year who are currently zoned for a school should be allowed to remain if they provide their own transportation.
3. The school choice office is advised to revise the lottery at Chocachatti to give preference to overcrowded schools.
4. The Planning and Growth Management Committee should decide upon the “priority and scope” of the design needed for these various expansions.
5. The Transportation Department is advised to evaluate the bus routes for certain schools and find ways to increase efficiency.
Though there have been many revisions to help ameliorate citizen concerns, the plan was not beloved by all. Various parents came forward with concerns about books and other issues, but one discussed her concern about the full zoning of Nature Coast High School.
“If the magnet program is taken away and so is the lottery, and I have my daughter who’s been going to school with her brother,” one parent said. “So, without a lottery, then she would not have that opportunity. So, it’s just a couple of things that I would want the board to just think about. This is our future and taking [the magnet program] away is just a travesty, in my opinion.”
The next meeting will be held on November 14 and will be an Organizational and Regular School Board Meeting, though the agenda for the forum has not yet been released.