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Crowding narrows choice plan

About one-third of the schools won't be options for 2005-06 as population growth outpaces construction.

By MELANIE AVE
Published October 10, 2004

TAMPA - The application period for the second year of Hillsborough County's controlled choice plan begins Monday, and some parents will learn they have few - if any - options.

About one-third of the county's schools will not be included on the list of choices for the 2005-06 school year because they are too crowded. Unavailable for choice are 36 elementary schools, 12 middle schools and 13 high schools.

Some parents already are aware the list of options has gotten slimmer.

"I've already heard from a number of them," said School Board member Jennifer Faliero. "They can't get into Durant (High). They can't get into Riverview (High).

"What choices do they really have when the schools are crowded?"

Debra Backes said she thought about participating in choice last year but decided she liked her neighborhood school, Brooker Elementary in Brandon. It is one of the schools over capacity and not open for choice enrollment.

Her son's class is housed in a portable classroom because there is no space in the regular building.

"Even if you wanted to get in there, you can't," Backes said. "There's no room."

The district limited the number of schools this year following problems with the new assignment plan last spring.

A computer glitch resulted in more than 1,500 students being assigned to schools that were crowded. About one-third of them ended up assigned to their second or third choices. Most were sent to their neighborhood schools.

One area with few choices is fast-growing southern Hillsborough. Most high school students will have to attend their regularly assigned school because the other options - Bloomingdale, East Bay and Riverview high schools - are over capacity.

Faliero, who represents that area, said the district's choice plan is hampered by the growth.

"We're in a Catch-22," she said. "It's something we can't control. We're building new schools as fast as we can."

Enrollment in Hillsborough has been climbing by about 5,000 students per year on average. So far this year, the increase has been 7,400 students. And despite the opening of seven new schools, more are needed.

Though choice applications will be accepted beginning Monday, letters to parents may not arrive until later in the week. The letters are necessary for parents who want to apply online because they contain the required personal identification numbers and passwords.

Some changes have been made to the choice plan this year, including an earlier deadline and a combined application with the magnet program.

Students who are eligible for choice are those living in mostly minority neighborhoods of any grade and suburban children entering kindergarten, sixth or ninth grade.

Parents of kindergarteners have a separate, later application period that begins in January.

Controlled choice is designed to maintain racial diversity voluntarily now that federal court supervision of Hillsborough's schools has ended. It is intended to encourage children to enroll in schools outside their neighborhoods. But it also allows thousands of black children to attend neighborhood schools rather than travel to distant ones, as many of them did under the federal plan.

The number of students participating in the choice plan has been small. As of the last week of August, 4,413 of the eligible 46,000 students had opted for choice. And there are four more largely black schools and two more largely white schools than there were last year.

Faliero said the School Board needs to explore whether the choice plan is working. And if it's not, perhaps it should be abandoned.

"I've asked myself many times, "Why don't you just return the money and say no thank you?' " she said. "If it's not working, why don't we do away with it?"

Melanie Ave can be reached at 813 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com

CHOICE AND MAGNET APPLICATIONS

WHEN: Monday through Dec. 10.

WHO CAN APPLY FOR CHOICE: All children who live in urban zones and suburban children entering sixth or ninth grade next year who want to go to a school other than their assigned campus. Kindergarten students have a separate application period this year. Selections are made by lottery.

WHO CAN APPLY FOR MAGNETS: Any student. Elementary and middle school students are chosen based on a lottery. High school magnet program admissions are competitive.

HOW TO APPLY: Online at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us currently enrolled children whose parents have received a mailed personal identification number and password; and in person at five Choice Resource Centers or the Office of School Choice at 901 E Kennedy Blvd.

WHEN RESULTS WILL BE KNOWN: Magnet children, beginning Jan. 28; choice children, beginning Feb. 15.

KINDERGARTEN CHOICE EARLY APPLICATION PERIOD: Jan. 3-18. Parents will be notified by Jan. 31.

REGULAR KINDERGARTEN CHOICE PERIOD: Jan. 3-April 18. Parents will be notified beginning May 16.

SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT APPLICATIONS (FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED): Jan. 4-June 30.

QUESTIONS ABOUT MAGNETS: 272-4818

QUESTIONS ABOUT CHOICE: (813) 272-4647

Source: Hillsborough County School District

[Last modified October 10, 2004, 00:52:07]


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