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Parents ask for good, not nearby, schools

By Donna Winchester, Times Staff Writer
Published October 10, 2007

CLEARWATER - Frustrated that her third child might not be able to go to school with his older siblings next year, a young mother's voice broke as she addressed Pinellas School Board members Tuesday night.

Heather Randall said she chose Plumb Elementary for two of her children under the district's current student assignment plan. She assumed her younger son eventually would join them there.

But the new plan, due to go into effect next year, would assign her younger child to a "close to home" school instead. In order to keep her kids together, she would have to move the older ones to the kindergartener's school.

"My husband and I made life decisions," she said. "Now I feel like our kids are being used as guinea pigs in an experiment."

Randall's tearful request that the district rethink the new plan wasn't the first one board members have heard in recent weeks. Tuesday's public meeting, which drew about 100 parents to Oak Grove Middle School, was the fifth the district has held to give families a chance to weigh in on a replacement for the 4-year-old choice system.

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. Or, they could apply for a magnet program, fundamental school or other special program.

More than a dozen parents, like Randall, spoke Tuesday against what has come to be known as "reverse sibling preference." Others questioned the way the district is drawing the boundary lines to determine school assignments. Families from South Ward Elementary and Riviera Middle School wanted to know why their schools are scheduled for closure.

Others, like Jeanne Ball of Clearwater, questioned the board's reasons for creating a new assignment plan.

"I've yet to find one person who is willing to pull their child out of their current school to go to their zoned school," said Ball, whose children attend McMullen-Booth Elementary.

Ball's husband, David, drew applause when he said he's more concerned with having his children attend a "good school" than a "close to home" school. "Fix the schools," he said, "and you won't have the problem of people not wanting to go to them."

With a preliminary vote on the plan just a week away, board member Carol Cook said she's concerned that parents have so many questions.

"We're still seeing a lot of confusion," she said.

Still time to speak out

One public forum remains on the proposed Pinellas student assignment plan:

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

What's next?

Thursday: Board holds workshop to finalize plan, 9 a.m.-noon at school district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo

Oct. 16: Board takes initial vote on new plan

Nov. 13: Final vote

[Last modified October 10, 2007, 11:47:56]

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