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    Letters to the Editor

    Goals, methods of school choice seem at odds

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


    Re: To be clear on Pinellas schools' choice plan, by Dr. Howard Hinesley, Oct. 10.

    I feel that I'm in a version of The Emporer's New Clothes. Hinesley's column says the public feels that "forced busing was not an acceptable method of improving student achievement." He states that "routine uprooting" caused parents to be "unable to attend programs or to be fully involved in the schools their children attended."

    He then states that "providing parents with choice would strengthen their involvement in our schools."

    By the School Board's own calculations, busing would be dramatically increased under the choice plan. How can low levels of involvement due to busing be improved by increasing the amount of busing? Nice outfit, Mr. Hinesley.
    Cary Linkfield, Safety Harbor

    An unpleasant experience with choice

    Re: To be clear on Pinellas schools' choice plan, by Dr. Howard Hinesley.

    My husband and I have been reading and watching in despair over what is happening to the Pinellas County school system. We have four children from ages 16 years to 3 years. We are praying for extended grandfathering like so many other parents in this county. More people than you think are outraged over these negotiations. We are waiting for the Oct. 24 vote.

    I was outraged at the comment in this column that St. Lucie County had 85 percent of the parents get their first or second choice. We lived in Port St. Lucie for three years. When we found a house conveniently close to two or three elementary schools, we were very pleased.

    When we went to register our first-grader, we went to the family center, gave our address and were handed a card with three schools we could number with our first, second or third choice. None of the schools near us was listed on that card. We did get our first choice out of the choices given to us, but it was a school several miles away. Naturally, we were upset, like so many other parents who were screaming and picketing outside.

    So our 6-year-old daughter boarded the bus every morning. Several of the other children in our neighborhood boarded four other buses for different elementary schools. The buses sped through our small neighborhood trying to cover large territories in short spans of time. Two children on our street were hit by buses.

    None of the children in the area knew each other. There was not only racial discord but also neighborhood discord as well -- whose school was better and so on. This certainly did not create any close friendships -- or a community.

    My husband quit his job and took a $20,000 cut in pay move our children to Pinellas County where there is (was) a wonderful school system. I waited tables at night and he delivered pizzas on weekends so we could get back on our feet to make sure our children received a quality and safe education.

    In St. Lucie County, we did not have a choice where our children went to school -- school officials there gave us our choices. We were not even told what our choices would be at a certain address if we were thinking of moving.

    My children now attend Bauder Elementary in Seminole. Will Bauder be one of my choices after this ridiculous plan goes into effect?
    Andrea McGuire, Seminole

    It's a solution to rotational busing

    Re: Choice paradox, editorial, Oct. 2.

    You ask: What's broken that needs fixing?

    The answer: rotational busing.

    The Palm Harbor parent, Julie Phillips, mentioned in your editorial is appalled that her child "could be put in a lottery and end up in a school from Tarpon Springs to Dunedin."

    To her I say, welcome to the club that has been open for nearly 30 years. Some residents in the southern area of St. Petersburg have sent their children on bus rides to schools in northern St. Petersburg or Seminole or even Largo since the beginning of court-ordered busing. Madeira Beach Elementary's St. Petersburg students have come from the USF Bayboro area, Fairmount Park Golf Club area and the Saunderlin Center area near St. Petersburg Challenge School. Some residents in northern St. Petersburg or Seminole wait with trepidation for every two-year rotation to see if their mailboxes contain information regarding "rezoning" to a school in southern St. Petersburg. A child living near and previously zoned for Seminole Elementary (in Seminole) may be sent to Fairmount Park (in southern St. Petersburg) for two years until the next rezoning.

    The choice plan may not be the ultimate answer, but please give the School Board and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund credit for attempting to end the rotational busing, as many south county parents have requested. Do any of you have a solution to end busing and encourage integration?
    L. Sinibaldi, Seminole

    A question of involvement

    It continues to amaze me how two years after the process of planning school choice has begun, people are just now waking up. Could it be the price tag? Did anyone think this would come cheap

    Should I assume the letter writers were among the handful of people who have shown up to give input at the meetings?

    I believe this is what teachers like myself have been whining about all these years: parental involvement!
    Jim Reed, St. Petersburg

    Make yourself heard on choice plan

    Re: The choice paradox, editorial, Oct. 2.

    Wake up Pinellas! Your children, along with a big part of the American dream, are about to be sold down the river. I'm talking about the so-called school choice program that is being perpetrated upon you and your children by a handful of people trying to fulfill their own agendas. Lots of money will be spent, taxes raised, children will be endangered -- all to make you think that this will somehow benefit your child. But how? What about the children who don't get into their "choice" school? What about the schools that will be last on everybody's list? These schools will have to be populated, but by whom? Your child? Maybe. You'll be powerless to stop it. A decision will be made by some computer. The School Board will have you believe that the less desirable schools will somehow change to attract students. The current plan does not even guarantee siblings the "choice" of attending the same school. Three children in three different high schools? That possibility is there.

    Why aren't we spending this extra money to make all schools equal? Put it toward the resources that will actually make a difference in the learning environment for our children. A watchdog system is what is needed to fulfill the job the current School Board and previous boards have failed to do for years.

    Red flags should be raised when supposedly informed School Board members announce that the bus-hub plan details have taken them by surprise. What other details have they not thought through? Are you ready for your child to spend three hours per day being transported back and forth to school? Kindergartners, middle and high school students being transported to some large hub where a frenzy of changes takes place.

    What about the vastly increased traffic, both morning and afternoon, from the additional 300 or more buses that will be needed? And by the way, where will these bus drivers come from? They can't find enough people now to drive the buses. Where will the money come from to pay them? Wouldn't this money be better spent on teachers, resources, books and buildings? The solution is simple: make all schools equal. Period. Same books, same environment, same facilities. Employ a "watchdog" system to make sure it is enforced.

    There is little time left, but it is not too late. If you haven't already, read the article in the Oct 8 St. Petersburg Times by Rob McMahon and Jade Moore exposing the incredible risks involved in what is in reality, a potentially dangerous experiment with your children's future. Then write to the School Board and express your concerns. Make them accountable for the decisions that will affect our children for many years to come.

    Here's how you can contact the Pinellas School Board on this issue:

    Voice response line: (727) 588-5181 *

    U.S. mail: Choice Plan, P.O. Box 2942 Largo, FL 33779-2942.

    E-Mail: maddenj@pinellas.k12.fl.us
    John Justice, Palm Harbor

    Forget the whole plan

    The choice plan is very misleading. Every parent is not going to have a choice as to which school his child attends. If the child is already in a desirable school, other parents will choose it for their children. Since there obviously won't be enough room for all of them, some children already living in that area will be forced elsewhere

    I'm furious about the whole thing. We moved to the Plumb School district specifically because of the reputation of the school and because there was no busing. There is no way I will allow my daughter's safety to be put at risk by allowing her to be bused who knows where! Some children will even need to transfer buses.

    Now the School Board members are talking about spending $12.4-million just to get this plan started! Why can't they instead put that money into improving the less desirable schools so none of the children need to be bused? As it is, they don't even know where the money will come from!

    Many people aren't concerned because maybe they don't have children in school, but they had better realize that their property value will go down. I often see in the real estate section "Plumb School District" noted as a big selling point. No one will be able to guarantee a prospective buyer where his children will attend school. When we moved here, we checked out the schools before even looking at houses!

    All children deserve the best education they can get! If they do this and one child is sent to another school so another child has the opportunity to take his/her place, how is that fair to the first child? The bottom line is that they need to forget the whole idiotic plan and put the money into the schools!
    Patricia Prestage, Clearwater

    English is a Germanic language

    In this otherwise interesting article, reporter Melanie Ave writes that Latin instructor Marianna Clarke "explained that many languages, including Spanish, English and Italian, are derived from Latin.

    This is wrong. English is not a Romance language. Originally Germanic, English was somewhat influenced by the Roman Empire and heavily influenced by the Norman (French) Conquest roughly a thousand years later. But being influenced by Latin does not put English into the same category as Spanish, Italian, French, Romanian and other languages derived from Latin.
    Mary W. Matthews, St. Petersburg

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    Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be published.

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