Parents rally to save schools

Officials say closing five schools saves $72-million. Parents lament the loss of a lifetime of memories.

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published August 9, 2007

All three of Tod and Becky Kindelspire's children have gone to Largo Central Elementary.

Each day, the children passed by the trees that their father helped plant when he was a fifth-grader at the school.

"They keep talking about the community schools," Becky Kindelspire said Wednesday, "and Largo (Central Elementary) is a community school."

The Kindelspires are part of a growing movement of parents from Largo Central who are mobilizing to try to persuade the School Board not to close their school. On Tuesday, Largo Central and South Ward Elementary in Clearwater were among five Pinellas County schools recommended for closure by the start of the 2008-09 school year. Faced with declining enrollment over the past several years, district officials have estimated the closures could save more than $72-million over the next five years.

Both Largo Central and South Ward have parents scrambling to save schools they see as vital community institutions.

At the School Board meeting last week, Becky Kindelspire implored board members to spare the school that has been such a huge part of her family's life.

"Please don't pave our paradise to build a parking lot," she said.

Kindelspire questioned the district's decision to expand Largo High School, which is part of the rationale for closing the nearby elementary school.

"My question is, if we have such a declining enrollment, how big does the new high school have to be?"

At South Ward Elementary, roots run deep, said parent Amy Brannen. The school celebrated its centennial last year and is on the National Historic Register.

"South Ward is so rich in history," Brannen said.

But the aging school also ranked highest in the projected per pupil cost to keep it running, which made it a logical choice for closure, said Jim Madden, the district's assistant superintendent of student assignment.

That's no comfort to Brannen, who said she and her husband, Todd, both attended the school. So did her two brothers, and two of Todd's brothers as well .

"I have nothing but wonderful memories," Brannen said. "Out of all my schooling, South Ward was the best."

Brannen said she was "horrified" when she heard their school was on the list.

She said she wants to start a petition to try to save the school and plans on attending the community meetings that will be held this fall.

Her message to the School Board?

"It would be a huge mistake to close this school," she said. "This area needs that school."

Kristin Vogt-Gonzalez, the parent of two children at Largo Central, said she too plans on doing whatever she can to convince the School Board that closing the school is a mistake.

Her inspiration? Seven-year-old daughter Courtney Guynn and 5-year-old son, Justin Guynn. "I hope my mom saves the school," Justin said.

For Ron Lindell, closing Largo Central would be a "crime." Lindell said he did a lot of research before choosing Largo Central for his son, Holden, who was in remission from leukemia when he entered kindergarten there last year.

"My son absolutely has flourished at Largo (Central Elementary)," he said.

Lindell said he's impressed with the school's staff and teachers, who he said went above and beyond to help Holden make the transition to school after he was too ill to attend preschool.

Lindell said he suspects the district is making a knee-jerk reaction to declining enrollment without considering the impact the closings will have on families.

"The politicians got together and did the bean counting and that's all they looked at. I don't think that they're thinking of the kids. They're thinking of the numbers," he said.