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Pasco County adopts stricter rules on open school enrollment

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County parents will now find it more difficult to put their children in schools they aren't zoned to attend.

They can blame the 2002 class-size amendment.

In order to comply with the voter mandate for smaller classes, the school district is paying closer attention to exactly how many seats it has available in each classroom at every grade level in a school. Before the state moved to class-by-class counts, children could switch schools more easily based upon general capacity.

"Prior to class size we were very fluid," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.

But the stricter rules, which voters upheld in November, meant that districts faced possible fines for failing to meet the constitutional requirements. As a result, the Pasco school district began limiting access to crowded schools through school choice.

In one of several policy discussions Tuesday, the School Board officially adopted new, stricter regulations governing open school enrollment. Among the changes, the district will require documented proof of hardships to gain entry to full schools, and siblings will not be guaranteed choice into the same school if seats are not available.

The rules take effect in time for the next round of school choice, which begins Feb. 1.

Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley expressed reservations about a stipulation in the policy that would force families to wait 20 days into the school year to learn if their choice application is approved, if they apply late.

"It seems like a tough way to do it for both the parents and the students," Hurley said, asking for other options.

Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly noted that the schools need time to determine how many teachers they need for the students already enrolled before they can make decisions on allowing late transfers through open enrollment. The district has to be fair to students already in the school, assistant superintendent Tina Tiede added.

Hurley asked for more data about how many students are offered choice transfers after 20 days, and for ideas about how to make the transition easier. But she joined the majority in approving the new policy.

That was but one policy discussion that the board engaged in during Tuesday's session.

Board vice chairman Allen Altman called for a review of the rule that forces teachers to leave their classrooms immediately upon reaching the date they set for retirement five years earlier through the state's DROP program. Last year, three or four teachers had to abandon their classes just weeks before the end of a semester.

"That is not good for schools or students," Altman said.

He urged the board to consider allowing those teachers to remain at their schools, with the principal's approval, through the end of the semester at least. Fiorentino said she wanted to have staff review all applicable laws before she would feel comfortable making such a change.

She did not have as many reservations about Hurley's proposal to give board members more leeway in placing items on the board agenda.

Hurley suggested revising policy to let every board member add to the agenda simply by advising the superintendent of the desire to do so.

"I'm really happy to do that," Fiorentino said.

She added, though, that the current rule exists for a reason.

"The reason it was changed was because it's easier to put the heat on me" when a single board member continually adds the same item, one that others do not wish to discuss, she said.

"We haven't had …" Hurley began.

"Uniforms," Fiorentino replied, reminding the board of a regular request by former member Kathryn Starkey.

"Okay," Hurley said, nodding.

She changed her recommendation to say that if a board member could get the support of at least one other at a public meeting, he or she could place an item on the next available agenda. That way, even a minority could put ideas up for discussion and the possibility of convincing others.

The full board agreed to that change and added it to policy revisions that are to come to a vote early next year.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco County adopts stricter rules on open school enrollment 12/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 7:37pm]
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