tampabay.com

Magnet schools still in rezoning debate

Some want magnets to accept students by neighborhood instead of portfolio and lottery.

By TOM MARSHALL
Published February 27, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - A school rezoning committee felt the full heat of parent worries Monday over the future of Hernando County's magnet schools.

"It's the elephant in the room, so I might as well bring it up," said meeting facilitator Jim Knight, coordinator of school services. "I had phone calls from parents who were told they should be here tonight because they're trying to do away with magnets."

At issue was the question of whether the three magnets - Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, Chocachatti Elementary, and Nature Coast Technical High - should accept students from their neighborhoods, rather than just by portfolio and lottery.

Knight said it's a far smaller question than the committee's main challenge of redrawing school boundaries to accommodate a new elementary school off Northcliffe Boulevard in Spring Hill, which is due to open in the fall of 2008.

But School Board members Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney asked that the committee consider the issue of magnets, and whether they might be zoned to accept the students who live closest to them.

Parent members and some administrators on the rezoning committee said they wanted it settled immediately Monday with a vote.

"Speaking as a parent, I'd like all the magnets to stay the same," one mother said.

Chocachatti principal Michael Tellone said redrawing the zones to compel his school to accommodate neighborhood children would doom his choice program. Half of students are admitted by portfolio and the rest by lottery, and all parents must contribute volunteer hours.

But he admitted that a "weighted lottery" might satisfy those concerns, by giving preference to neighborhood applicants.

Gulf Coast Academy charter school administrator Nevin Siefert offered a motion to table the question, rather than vote immediately.

And representatives from 12 schools supported that position. Only five schools - the three magnets plus Springstead High and Pine Grove Elementary - supported the idea of an immediate vote.

That means the question of including magnet schools in the rezoning process will remain on the committee's agenda for at least another meeting.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.