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'Home' school plan deserves support
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published July 1, 2007
What makes the new student assignment plan for Pinellas schools appealing is also what may remove some of the sting during its transition. The plan helps bring young students closer to home, and that's what parents say they want.
School Board members who fear a backlash can draw comfort from the strikingly different approach this time around. Nearly eight years ago, the old zoning system was cast aside with so little examination by parents and educators that it was first introduced by a court-appointed mediator. This time, with lawyers on the sidelines and a federal court settlement having expired, the focus has turned back to the classroom.
Each step along this new path has been painstaking and visible, from the original board workshops to the appointed task force to the maps and charts that are now publicly available. School superintendent Clayton Wilcox has even allowed a St. Petersburg Times reporter to watch the meetings in which administrators brainstorm ideas and commit them to paper.
The details won't be easy, especially the final boundary lines between schools. But the plan is so far meeting with its stated objectives. It simplifies school assignment, tossing out the confusing choice plan in favor of one that draws first on neighborhood connections. Each student could still choose from a variety (though a smaller selection) of schools, but is essentially assigned a "home" school nearby.
That one change alone would promote stability and allow the district to free up millions of dollars that are now wasted on half-empty buses.
Nothing comes without tradeoffs, of course. At the board's last workshop, chairwoman Mary Brown raised important questions about the racial composition of these newly zoned schools. Brown, the board's only African-American, deserves answers. But the reality is that the current choice plan is already leading to resegregation, and the legal landscape changed dramatically with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Thursday that leaves few options.
Brown can keep her eye on the money, though. The transportation savings could certainly be used to support schools with greater academic needs and magnet programs that promote voluntary integration.
Wilcox's plan so far is receiving broad support from board members, and they hope to agree on a final draft by August. Then they will take the plan to the community in a series of public hearings. This time around, board members and educators - not mediators or lawyers - will be presenting the ideas.