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School Board reaches out to groups

The Pinellas district will seekpublic comment on its student assignment plan.

By KELLY RYAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


LARGO -- Starting in August, the Pinellas County School Board will hold at least eight public meetings about a proposed new student assignment plan.

District officials are soliciting comments from as many groups as they can think of, including parents, teachers, administrators, ministers, government leaders, Realtors, NAACP members, neighborhood activists and business owners. Eight meetings are set, and more are being scheduled, including one with elected city and county officials.

Faculty, PTAs and school advisory councils at each school in the county will be required to submit their comments in writing by the end of September. Board members are scheduled to vote on the plan Oct. 24.

Community groups have been invited to hear presentations about the plan or submit their opinions. Several board members encouraged Superintendent Howard Hinesley to continue looking for groups whose voices have not yet been heard.

"We do not want criticism that we didn't go out into the community," said board member Jane Gallucci.

The School Board and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have negotiated a settlement to end a 1964 lawsuit that led to court-ordered busing for desegregation. As part of the agreement, the district will begin a new student assignment system in fall 2003.

Under the proposal, released in April, the district will be divided into attendance areas; students will choose schools in their area,and selections will be made through a computer process. The idea is to shift from traditional zoning to giving parents more choice about where their children attend school.

School Board members were given two options for dividing the district. One would create three areas for elementary and middle schools and one area, the whole county, for high schools. The other option would create four areas for elementary and middle school and two areas for high school.

The proposal would give preference to students who live close to their first-choice school and to siblings who want to attend school together. Between 2003 and 2007, black student enrollment at each school will be capped at 42 percent, so the district also will put weight on maintaining diversity.

The proposal includes a provision that would allow all students enrolled in the 2002-2003 school year to complete elementary, middle and high school within their current attendance zones. Only students new to the district in fall 2003 would have to participate in the new choice system.

School officials say they included that provision because parents asked for it. But the student assignment plan is not a done deal -- and district officials are worried that parents will skip the public hearings because they think their children won't be affected. As School Board members work on post-busing plans, they are trying to persuade a federal judge to approve the settlement. The last sticking point: controlling the growth of charter schools.

Meeting dates

The August meetings will be at district headquarters at 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo. Locations have not been set for the September hearings.

Aug. 21, noon, chambers of commerce

Aug. 29, 10 a.m., Realtors

Aug. 29, 7 p.m., League of Women Voters

Aug. 30, 8:30 a.m., Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance

Aug. 30, 3 p.m., School Advisory Councils

Aug. 31, 7 p.m., Pinellas County Council of PTAs

Sept. 7, 7 p.m., general public

Sept. 21, 7 p.m., general public

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