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Board takes up crowding issue

The School Board asks administrative staffers to come up with a way of easing overcrowding at two elementary schools.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published May 22, 2003

BROOKSVILLE - A few parents took issue Tuesday night with the School Board's 2-week-old declaration of an elementary school crowding emergency.

They questioned the board's statutory authority to deem an emergency situation, and the fairness of setting up a new lottery to take precedence over the existing waiting list to enter Chocachatti Elementary School.

"It's not fair to change it in the middle, especially when you have a lot of people who are patient and have waited," said Lynda Neuhausen, whose son is on the waiting list.

Rather than backing down, board members instead upped the intensity of their campaign to ease crowding at Pine Grove and J.D. Floyd elementary schools, each of which has about 1,000 students - about 200 more than preferred.

They instructed superintendent Wendy Tellone and her staff to take another look at the elementary school attendance boundaries, with an eye toward finding easy ways to move children from Pine Grove or Floyd into Moton Elementary in Brooksville, which abuts the Pine Grove and Floyd districts and has fewer than 700 students.

Previously, the board rejected a sweeping rezoning plan that would have moved about 1,100 children from their current schools. Because that plan would have affected schools with no crowding at all, the board decided it was not appropriate.

"The price was too great," board member Jim Malcolm said.

But if some simple moves of boundary lines can reduce crowding at Pine Grove or J.D. Floyd by even a few students, Malcolm said, it should be done.

"I totally agree with Mr. Malcolm," board Vice Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson said. "It appears that there are some pockets, be they small, that could be transferred into Moton without major impact."

The board should go a step further, she said, by encouraging parents who work in or near the city of Brooksville to consider sending their children to Moton. The school is in a pretty setting on Emerson Road, off the State Road 50 bypass, she said, and it consistently has performed well academically.

Others on the board nodded in support of that idea. They did not mention sending children to Eastside Elementary, another undercapacity school that regularly logs the county's worst test scores.

Tellone had some questions about the board's directive. She said the staff looked for easy solutions before, but found none. Still, she said, the administration will provide a recommendation to the board as soon as possible, perhaps within a week.

Board members also defended their decision to increase enrollment at Chocachatti, the district's magnet school for the arts, by accepting children from Pine Grove and J.D. Floyd only. Board attorney Karen Gaffney said the state administrative code permits the board to declare an emergency, although she could not cite the specific section that allows one for school crowding.

Board member Robert Wiggins said the addition of 80 students at Chocachatti would not detract from the existing waiting list. If the board had not added the 80, after all, the waiting list would not have changed either, he said.

Wiggins also challenged the contention by some that removing just 40 students each from Pine Grove and Floyd would have little effect. In fact, he said, that number represents 20 percent of the crowding problem at each school.

The board wants to remove about 200 children from each of those schools.

Nicholson pointed out that the board has taken students from specific schools into Chocachatti before, to ease crowding when the school first opened. The board did the same to enroll students at Nature Coast Technical High School, which opens in the fall, she said.

As it stands, board Chairman John Druzbick said, "you're no better or worse off than you were before."

Melissa Williams, whose child is on the Chocachatti waiting list, begged to differ.

"We would have been better if you would have gone by the waiting list," she told Druzbick, the only board member to vote against the emergency.

Sensing the board was not going to budge, Williams walked away from the podium where she spoke, saying she would wait to see what happens.

- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County. He can be reached at 754-6115 or solochek@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 22, 2003, 01:30:54]


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