School choice survey trickles in
By KELLY RYAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2001
LARGO -- Pinellas schools recently sent out about 105,000 surveys to parents, seeking data that will help the School Board decide what kinds of educational programs and bus service should be part of a system to let parents choose their children's schools.
By the last mail delivery Friday -- the already extended due date -- the district had gotten back about 27,500 surveys. Another 6,000 were returned blank, stamped undeliverable.
Jim Madden, who is coordinating development of the choice plan, said that by the end of next week, the district will send postcards to people who have not returned the surveys. Anyone who doesn't respond to the postcard will be mailed another survey.
By the end of June, when the results will start being analyzed, research director Steve Iachini hopes to have between 50,000 and 60,000 surveys. That would far exceed the typical 20 to 30 percent response rate for parent surveys.
"I've been very encouraged by the returns so far," Iachini said. "Only when parents are truly interested does it go much beyond that."
The survey itself continues to spark controversy. Some parents have complained that they never got one in the mail. Others say the survey is confusing and that the school descriptions are not uniform, so some left out key details about the programs they offer.
The survey also is threatening to harm the relationship between Superintendent Howard Hinesley and some members of the District Monitoring and Advisory Committee, a community group charged with monitoring the district's desegregation efforts.
In a meeting Friday punctuated by accusations and mistrust, some DMAC members wanted Hinesley and School Board attorney John Bowen to acknowledge that DMAC's role is more than merely reviewing reports. Some members want the right to raise issues that concern them or are brought to their attention by county residents.
They were angry that Hinesley never thought to involve them in the development of the survey or the suggested specialty programs for three new schools being built in St. Petersburg. Some members, along with the NAACP's St. Petersburg branch, wanted a pledge that DMAC would not be excluded from important decisions again.
"DMAC's roles and responsibilities can be interpreted in a much broader way," said DMAC member Mary Schoonover, who is education chairwoman of the NAACP's St. Petersburg branch.
Hinesley has suggested offering a fundamental program at a new middle school and a pre-International Baccalaureate and an engineering/math program at two new elementaries.
He said fundamental schools have long waiting lists for black and white students. He also said the other two programs would answer criticism that too few black students enroll in and complete high school science and IB magnet programs.
DMAC will be given survey results and will be able to make recommendations before the School Board makes other choice decisions. Hinesley said DMAC always has the right to bring concerns to the board, but he pointed out that he has the right to make administrative decisions.
"There has to be some type of program that will attract white parents and that will interest black parents," he said. "Otherwise, you can mark my words, you won't have an integrated school system (after 2007, when race ratios disappear.)"
Even within DMAC, there is disagreement about what the group's role should be. Some members of the committee sat silent during the 90-minute meeting, and others said the group should avoid getting involved in every single administrative decision.
"When we get into minute details of the survey, we're micromanaging," said Joan Minnis, principal of Garrison-Jones Elementary School. "Sometimes we're confusing managing with monitoring."
After the meeting, Bowen and Roger Plata, a DMAC member who used to be co-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Pinellas' desegregation case, got into a near-shouting argument about whether Hinesley had violated the court order by excluding DMAC from the process so far. Bowen invited Plata to take the issue back to federal court, but Plata said the NAACP branch had not decided its next step.
Enrique Escarraz, lead local attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has not filed any complaints about how the district is working with DMAC.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks