Residents make it clear: They don't want an alternative high school for problem students in a neighborhood finally shaking off its high-crime image.
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001
LARGO -- They came. They saw. And they got an earful.
Pinellas County School Board officials who came to a meeting Thursday night to push plans for an alternative high school in High Point found little support from residents who angrily dismissed the proposal.
"I think you've got the right idea. I think it's a wonderful program. But not in my backyard," said Jeff Hoyt, a High Point resident and home builder in the area.
The $15-million school, which would be called Bayside High, would be geared toward students who have not succeeded in traditional classrooms, including those who are truant, disruptive or with criminal records.
School Board officials say they are eyeing High Point for three reasons: One, because it is located near Pinellas Technical Education Center, which could provide vocational opportunities for students. Two, the county owns property in the area. Three, High Point would be a convenient location for students across the county.
The plan's proponents stressed that numerous security measures would be in place on school grounds.
"It's going to help kids get a little extra help," said School Board member Linda Lerner. "I think this can be a model for Pinellas County of how you can collaborate resources. This is going to be one of the safest schools in Pinellas County."
Most of the 40 residents and community leaders, many armed with handwritten or typed speeches, who gathered at New Life Assembly of God Church on Thursday night were not convinced.
The neighborhood, residents said, is making a comeback after a troublesome past of high crime, and some of the students may cause trouble in their neighborhood. Some parents were also worried about its potential location, near High Point Elementary School. "You want to put 500 of the worst students next to 5-year-olds?" asked resident Kenneth Harper. "Where's your head at? That cannot happen. This is a bad, bad idea."
One of the few people who spoke in favor of the school in High Point was shouted down by audience members.
"The way everybody in here is acting, it sounds like this is going to be a high security prison," said Nick Borgfeldt. "It is a school. They need your help."
"Put it in your community," one audience member said.
"This is my community," replied Borgfeldt, who lives near High Point.
The plan's presenters took notes but did not answer many questions. They plan to host a meeting next month in which they will have artist renderings of the new school. Talk of renderings brought accusations from residents that the School Board's mind is made up about putting the school in High Point. "It's not made up," replied Nancy Zambito, a director of school operations for the School Board.