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School Board seeks public's say on assignment plan

Recent community meetings have even School Board members questioning the plan.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published October 7, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - If Pinellas School Board members learned anything from a recent series of "community input meetings," it's that families still have a lot of questions about the new student assignment plan scheduled to go into effect next year.

Several board members have begun to question whether the district is moving too quickly in implementing the plan and have suggested that it might be better to phase it in over time instead of all at once.

Others want to revisit several key issues that already had been decided, and one has said she won't vote for the plan in its current form.

That's why it's crucial for families with concerns to attend a second round of public meetings scheduled to begin Monday, board member Janet Clark said.

"I think it really behooves the public to come out and tell us what's on their minds," Clark said. "We're hearing what they think through staff, but we really need to hear it directly from the parents."

The new student assignment plan would replace the 4-year-old choice system, which followed 32 years of busing for desegregation.

In its current form, it 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.

But nothing is definite. One possibility that surfaced at last week's School Board workshop would be to require students entering kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade to attend their neighborhood school next year. Other students would enter the system the following year.

That would give the district time to come up with a way to prevent schools from becoming more racially isolated, some board members say. Although Pinellas is no longer under any legal obligation to keep schools desegregated, it remains one of the board's "guiding principles" to keep schools diverse.

Clark said that in addition to hearing parents' views on resegregation, she expects to hear many voicing opinions on whether countywide magnet schools should reserve a percentage of their seats for neighborhood children.

Some families have said that would only be fair because another guiding principle of the plan is to return to a system where children can go to school close to home.

But other parents have said that allowing neighborhood children to attend magnets without applying through the countywide process and gaining their seat through a lottery would "water down" the programs.

"Nothing has been voted on," Clark said. "Even though some of the major details have been decided, the way it will be rolled out is still very much open to debate."


Listening tours

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

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

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

[Last modified October 6, 2007, 20:17:45]

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