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First hint of school hit list

As enrollments fall, the superintendent reveals a tentative list of 10 Pinellas schools.

Published July 10, 2007

Pinellas County School Superintendent Dr. Clayton M. Wilcox, left, addresses members of the Pinellas County School Board during a board workshop meeting Monday in Largo. The group was discussing the Student Attendance Area Plan.
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
» Fast Facts
Preliminary list
The schools named Monday for possible closure:
Anona Elementary in Largo
Clearview Avenue Elementary in St. Petersburg
Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach
Largo Central Elementary
North Ward Elementary in Clearwater
Orange Grove Elementary in Seminole
Rio Vista Elementary in St. Petersburg
San Jose Elementary in Dunedin
South Ward Elementary in Clearwater
Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg
What's next
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and other district leaders will continue discussions of possible school closures and eventually bring a recommendation to the School Board for a vote.

Pinellas school superintendent Clayton Wilcox on Monday named 10 schools that are among those that could close at the end of the 2007-08 academic year, a move prompted by district enrollment declines.

On the list are Riviera Middle School and Anona, Clearview Avenue, Gulf Beaches, Largo Central, North Ward, Orange Grove, Rio Vista, San Jose and South Ward elementary schools.

All of the schools, with the exception of Largo Central, either are older schools, have low enrollment or lie in flood-prone areas of the county, Wilcox told the School Board. Largo Central is under consideration for closure because it occupies a corner of the property set aside for the renovation of Largo High School.

Wilcox cautioned board members at an afternoon workshop that the list is preliminary and subject to change.

"There is no plan (to close the schools), but we are looking at them," he said. "We're starting to put together a matrix and saying, 'Here's why we're looking at this; here's where we are in the decision process.' "

Despite the tentative nature of the announcement, Wilcox acknowledged that principals at most of the schools have been contacted about the possible closures.

School Board members last month authorized Wilcox to start naming schools that could close as the system faces the steepest enrollment decline in its history. Pinellas enrollment has dropped by nearly 6,000 students since 2003.

When enrollment falls, school districts receive less money from the state.

On average, each elementary school closed could save the district $500,000, Wilcox told the board at a June 21 meeting. That money could be used for other things, such as enhancing programs at other schools.

But making a final decision about which schools to close will be difficult, Wilcox told board members Monday.

"Anybody who goes (to one of those schools) clearly thinks it's the best school in the world," Wilcox said.

For parents like Robin Ellis, the possible closure of Gulf Beaches Elementary at a time when the district appears to be returning to a system of neighborhood schools is especially distressing. Ellis, whose three children attend the school, went there herself.

"It's been wonderful for my children to have a sense of community rather than get on a bus and have to travel so many miles to another school," said Ellis, 47. "This is very, very sad."

Wilcox said he would urge all parents to "trust the process and stay plugged into the conversation" until final decisions regarding school closures are made.

"We're dealing with multiple balls in the air," he said, referring to the ongoing discussions about implementing a new student assignment plan for the 2008-09 academic year. "But as we've said over and over, we are committed to what's best for children and families."

[Last modified July 10, 2007, 07:09:19]

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