Tyrone boosters press district to keep school open
By KELLY RYAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
LARGO -- Teachers, parents and neighborhood residents on Tuesday urged Pinellas School Board members to keep Tyrone Middle School open.
The school district is studying whether to close Tyrone and make way for Lealman Intermediate, an old school in disrepair, to move in. A committee will present a report to the School Board on Oct. 30 about the feasibility of the proposal.
Although a decision is months away, Tyrone boosters already have mobilized. PTA president Erica Sparks told board members at their meeting Tuesday night that more than 1,000 signatures had been collected to keep the 1,200-student school intact.
During their presentation, parents and teachers sang the school's praises, noting academic, athletic and art awards. They said the school has strong community partnerships and support, echoed by several speakers from the nearby Holiday Park Neighborhood Association.
"Where's the choice for our Tyrone students?" asked Spanish teacher Sarita Stevens, referring to a new plan to give parents more school choice in 2003.
Parents worried about where their kids would go to school if their school closed, whether they would have to ride buses and whether students would be able to participate in extracurricular activities.
One parent said it did not make sense to close a relatively small middle school and force students to attend much larger schools. Many people, School Board members included, think smaller middle schools enhance achievement and safety.
"I'm very concerned about how this will affect our children," said Bobbi Matthews, who has a sixth-grade daughter at Tyrone. "My daughter wants to be a cheerleader. If we close . . . what would she cheer for?"
Superintendent Howard Hinesley said that, contrary to rumors, Tyrone would not be closed after this year. If School Board members decide to close Tyrone Middle, it would not happen before 2003.
Tyrone's future is tied to needs in other parts of the county.
Lealman Intermediate, a dropout prevention program, has environmental and structural problems that could cost $5-million to fix. It might be more cost-effective, officials say, to move the school rather than rebuild.
Plus, moving Lealman would have other benefits.
The district can't build new schools unless it gets the state's permission. As part of the settlement in the county's desegregation case, the district got permission to build a new school south of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. The district says it did not really need those seats, but it does need a new middle school in a growing part of the county near East Lake.
If Tyrone closes and absorbs Lealman, district officials think they will have a better chance of getting permission to build a new middle school in north Pinellas.
In addition, Lealman sits next to a bus compound, and the district will need more bus storage space when it moves to choice. If Lealman moves to a new campus, the compound could expand.
But Hinesley stressed to the parents, teachers and cheerleaders in the audience that no data have been gathered to show what course would be best.
"There is no decision," Hinesley said. "You will get an opportunity for input."
In other action, the School Board was introduced to Oscar Robinson, a new area superintendent. He replaced Paula Lamb, who recently retired.
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