Speakers urge Pinellas board to reconsider school closings
Updated: 9:45 p.m.
Dozens of speakers urged Pinellas School Board members tonight to take a second look at the data driving the district's cost-cutting proposals and to consider the human toll of closing small community schools they described as too valuable to lose.
They also questioned the board's rationale and urged officials to consider other cuts in the budget first.
"Please, dig deep, try harder and find a way to keep this tragedy from happening," said Tim George, a teacher and parent at Rio Vista Elementary in St. Petersburg.
Large contingents of parents and teachers representing several schools arrived hours earlier wearing their school colors and protest t-shirts. The Gradebook spotted large groups from Rio Vista, Kings Highway and Gulf Beaches elementary schools as well as a large group from Southside Fundamental Middle School.
Students from Palm Harbor Elementary were holding a banner outside the building: "Small Schools Make a Big Impact."
The district had prepared for a large turnout. It added to the usual staff of campus police on hand at its meetings, and the media arrived in full force. Officials also had planned to make room in the first-floor cafeteria to help accommodate an anticipated overflow crowd of speakers. Officials also had separate sign-in sheets for speakers from each of the schools slated to be closed under a budget reduction plan.
In addition to closing schools, the board is considering a proposal to redraw the district's map for elementary zoned schools and make sure every elementary student is in his or her zoned school next year. The plan revokes "grandfathering" for kids who were allowed to remain in the schools they got into under the old choice plan. It also raises the possibility that thousands of other kids will have to change schools next year.
The measure does not affect middle and high school students or elementary students in magnet or fundamental schools.
The elementary schools on the closing list are: Gulf Beaches, Kings Highway, North Ward, Palm Harbor and Rio Vista. In addition, the plan calls for shuttering Southside and Coachman fundamental middle schools and moving their programs. Southside would be moved to Madeira Beach Middle and Coachman to Kennedy Middle.
The measures are part of an effort to address declining enrollment and reduce a projected $48-million budget shortfall for 2009-10 by curtailing bus service.