Parents pick at school plan

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007

Pinellas County parents from Palm Harbor to St. Petersburg have sounded off on the school district's proposed student assignment plan at three community meetings over the past two weeks.

They questioned everything from a lack of options to what would happen if schools resegregate, a likely scenario since unlike the current plan, the new one will not use racial ratios in assigning children to schools.

The new student assignment plan will replace the 4-year-old choice system, which followed 32 years of busing for desegregation. The proposed plan would divide the district into eight attendance areas for elementary schools, six for middle schools and seven for high schools.

Every school would be surrounded by a zone, and students would be assigned to the school in the zone where they live. Students could attend their zone school or apply for a magnet program, fundamental school or another special program.

Here is a sampling of comments from each meeting.

Pinellas Park High School, Sept. 26

On proximity to after-school care

"We would ask you to consider allowing parents who have children in child care to use a special attendance permit so their children can go to school near that child care center. I think this would help keep our children safe and keep parents from making a bad choice and leaving young children at home alone."

Lynn Gibson, Largo

On parental involvement

"I counted maybe 120 people when I walked in here. I would certainly like the county and the School Board to consider ways to get more parents back in the darn fold. I think we're a pretty small group to be working on such a big problem. My other comment is that I would like to see us come up with a time line on this map that we're trying to put out to the parents so we can clearly know when and where we'll be able to place our kids."

Jim Davis, Dunedin

John Hopkins Middle School, Sept. 27

On resegregation

"Ultimately, what's at stake is the kind of community we want to be in Pinellas County. Do we want to be integrated and unified in common causes, or divided over issues of race, class and education? In our efforts to save money on busing and other costs, I hope that we don't fall back on our efforts and the efforts of previous generations to give the best kind of education to all of our students."

Andrea Andersen,

St. Petersburg

On the closure of Riviera Middle School

"The county has always looked at us as the stepchild. We've never been offered the opportunity to be a magnet or a fundamental. ... We have made gains because we have a very dedicated staff. Our students do thrive. They work very hard. We've been promised for years a brand new school. I was told this year that even though our numbers were low that was okay. Now I'm being told we're going to be closed. ..."

Kathleen Prince, St. Petersburg

Palm Harbor University High School, Sept. 18

On 'reverse grandfathering'

"Reverse grandfathering puts many of us between a rock and a hard place. It results in one of two bad things. Children established in a school must change schools if they want to be with their sibling. Or you have siblings attending different schools. ... Asking a child to move middle schools when his address hasn't changed is like asking him to move to another part of the country."

Cary Siegel, Tarpon Springs

On high school choices

"The proposed plan, although it gives us two choices in a particular zone for a high school, doesn't give us the choice we've come to love. ... I would encourage the board to look at maybe a hybrid plan. If you want close-to-home schools for elementary kids, and maybe for middle school kids, set that up. But our kids at the high school level have reached out now. Can't there be a portion of the choice program that still exists so they have options?"

Jeff Hochberg, Clearwater

What's next?

School Board members will conduct a series of "listening tours" to get more public opinion:

Oct. 8: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Gibbs High, 850 34th St. S, St. Petersburg.

Oct. 9: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Oak Grove Middle School, 1370 S Belcher Road, Clearwater.

Oct. 10: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Countryside High, 3000 State Road 580, Clearwater.

Oct. 16:The board will take an initial vote on the new plan.

Nov. 13: The board will take a final vote on the new plan.

On the Web

For more detailed information about the new plan, including a Q&A and important documents, go to education.tampabay.com.