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School strategy's costs are explained

The proposal designed to satisfy a federal judge would cost $76.8-million, the school district estimates.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2000


TAMPA -- School officials said Thursday that implementing a proposed desegregation plan for Hillsborough County would cost an estimated $76.8-million.

The estimate comes nearly four months after district officials floated the plan, which envisions greater integration by giving parents more choices in deciding which school their child will attend, and by providing incentives for parents to place their children in racially imbalanced schools.

The School Board is expected to discuss the plan Tuesday, although no vote will be taken.

By far the largest chunk of the $76.8-million would go for school construction and renovation costs.

The plan includes the building of two vocational centers, one middle school and one elementary school, along with nine renovations and additions, for a total of $69.5-million.

But district officials note that the money for the construction has already been budgeted in the school system's five-year capital outlay plan and thus will not require new money sources.

The transportation, after-school care and other costs will be new expenses.

District officials estimate that busing students to their school of choice, which will be possible in some cases, will require 100 new school buses, along with their maintenance and new bus drivers, for a cost of $6.5-million.

After-school care, which would be placed in more than three dozen schools as an incentive for parents, is estimated to cost $380,000.

The district's school choice plan is a response to U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, who ruled in 1998 that the school district had not done enough to desegregate its schools and refused to release the district from court supervision.

The district appealed that decision and is awaiting a ruling from the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

But taking a two-pronged approach, the district embarked on the creation of a plan that would meet with Kovachevich's approval, should the appeals court disagree with them.

The school choice plan would divide the county into suburban and urban sectors, with parents able to choose between the two.

The hope is that with incentives, such as magnet programs, racially imbalanced schools will draw a mix of students.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund officials, who represent the plaintiffs in the 41-year-old desegregation case, said that they would not favor an open-ended school choice plan like the one the district has proposed.

Victor Bolden, of the Defense Fund in New York, said Wednesday that he would like to see a choice plan with built-in race ratios that would ensure balance in schools.

The school choice plan would also require $90,000 for an ombudsman's salary. The ombudsman would be a kind of liaison between the district and parents. It also would require $12,000 for training principals and $200,000 for student programs designed to ensure equity in the schools.

The cost figures accompanied a new, updated version of the plan, which district officials say takes into account the input from community meetings the past several weeks.

The plan is substantially the same, although it provides more busing options for parents who choose to send their child to a school not assigned to them.

While the previous plan envisioned offering two or three schools for which busing would be available, the new plan offers transportation to an average of three to five schools, said Donnie Evans, an assistant superintendent.

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