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Want first school choice now? Many say no

THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published August 21, 2003

Many families are surprising Pinellas school officials by turning down a second chance to get their children into schools that months ago had no room for them under the choice plan.

"You would think that if I was being called for my first-choice school, the answer would be yes," said Jim Madden, the choice coordinator for Pinellas Schools. But he said more than half the families being contacted are opting to remain in the schools where their children began classes on Aug. 5.

The calls are being made to the families of students put on waiting lists when they did not receive a seat in their first or second choice school during a February computer lottery. The choice plan allows students to apply for up to five schools, ranking them in order of preference.

Many schools have openings now because some students never showed up in class, apparently moving or opting for private school. No-shows are common when the district conducts its 10-day count of students, an annual process in which the district adjusts to make sure teachers and other resources are properly aligned for the rest of the school year.

With choice, the count has an added impact: opening opportunities for those on waiting lists. Officials have long predicted that some families on the lists would grow comfortable with the school they got and not leave for their first or second choice school. But they never expected so many to stay put.

The count, completed this week, showed the district has 112,246 students this year, up 510 from last year.

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