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Integration is the goal of regions and zones

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


TAMPA -- The map looks like a pie slashed and cut to pieces in a Ginsu-knife exhibition.

But in the oddly shaped trapezoids and rectangles lies the Hillsborough school district's answer to Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich's 1998 order that the district do more to desegregate its schools.

The county, which has more than 150,000 children enrolled in 160 public schools, would be divided into seven regions and seven zones. Regions are largely suburban, predominantly white areas; zones are urban areas with large black populations.

The plan envisions a kind of cross-pollination between the zones and regions and thus integration of the schools.

Here's how it will work.

All students will keep the assigned school which they now attend. The exception to this rule will be the 7,500 students who are bused for desegregation purposes. These students, the majority of whom are black, will have no assigned school.

Students who have no assigned school or who don't want to attend their assigned school will be allowed to choose from an average of a dozen schools in the area in which they live. Some of the choices will be suburban regional schools, some will be urban zoned schools.

Magnet programs and other incentives will be placed in urban schools in the hope of luring suburban students, creating integration.

Students who select a school will be granted entry provided space is available. Students will have to list more than one school choice.

In the regions, parents will be able to choose schools for students entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades. Parents in zones in which there now is busing for desegregation will be able to choose a new school each year if they wish.

District officials project that roughly 22 percent to 25 percent of the district's students will opt to not attend their assigned school and will pick from other choices under the plan.

The cost of the plan still is being worked out, but it has been estimated at $76.8-million, with the bulk of the cost going for new school buses and drivers.

The plan, should it gain the approval of Judge Kovachevich, could take effect as early as 2004.

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