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Across bay, school choice plan contrasts

Unlike counterparts in neighboring Pinellas County, Hillsborough County real estate agents say they are seeing little panic or confusion.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published June 7, 2003

TAMPA - Lately, ReMax Realtor Mary McCall has been telling potential home buyers that change is afoot for choosing the schools their children will attend.

She explains that their children will be enrolled in their neighborhood schools, but they have a choice. Then she steers them to the school district's Web site for more information.

She doesn't panic and she's not confused. It's a big difference, McCall said, compared with what her counterparts are experiencing in Pinellas County, where school choice has many parents and real estate agents in a tizzy.

An agent in Pinellas County, with its new lottery system, recently described the situation there as "somewhat chaotic." Real estate agents there said the uncertainty is making it hard for buyers and sellers alike.

McCall was among several dozen real estate agents attending an informational luncheon at the Marriott Westshore on Friday to learn more about Hillsborough County's choice plan, set to begin in August 2004.

Beleria Floyd, supervisor of Hillsborough County School District's choice program, and Superintendent Earl Lennard spent more than an hour familiarizing the group with Hillsborough County's choice plan.

They stressed that the Hillsborough plan differs greatly from the Pinellas plan, which had some Hillsborough parents in a panic.

On a December day last year, a handful of parents showed up at Hillsborough school district offices because they had heard that the deadline to register their children through the new school choice plan was that afternoon.

But to their relief, they learned that the deadline was for Pinellas County residents, where school choice is set to begin in the fall.

"They're apples and oranges," Beleria told the agents in comparing the two plans. "Whichever one you like best, that's the one we are."

Floyd said one of the biggest differences is that the Hillsborough plan calls for students to be automatically assigned to their neighborhood schools - unless they choose otherwise.

McCall, a 16-year home seller, said she left the meeting feeling confident.

"We are the first line of defense when people move here," she said. "(The meeting) went a long way in allaying some of the fears the real estate community has in explaining this to the public and transferees."

[Last modified June 7, 2003, 01:48:25]


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