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Pinellas School Board faces tough choices on closures

Some key issues will be on the table today when the Pinellas School Board meets in a workshop to decide whether to close schools and revoke bus privileges to some students.

Here are some questions and answers on the issues at hand:

What is happening?

Faced with declining enrollment and a projected budget shortfall of $40-million for the 2009-10 school year, school officials have proposed three changes that would affect thousands of families. The district would:

• Close as many as five elementary schools — Gulf Beaches in St. Pete Beach; Kings Highway and North Ward in Clearwater; Rio Vista in St. Petersburg; and Palm Harbor Elementary.

• Merge four middle schools into two. Southside and Coachman fundamental middle schools would close and move to larger facilities. Southside would move 13 miles northwest to Madeira Beach Middle School, and neighboring Madeira Beach Elementary would be converted to a fundamental school as well. Coachman would move two miles west to Kennedy Middle.

• Reverse a decision last year to provide bus service for students who opted to remain in their existing schools rather than move to their new zone schools.

Is this final?

No. The School Board tentatively decided to make the middle school changes in a workshop Nov. 18.

At today's workshop, the board is expected to make a tentative decision on closing the elementary schools and on revoking bus service for students who aren't in their zone schools.

None of these decisions will be final until the board formally votes on the issues. A first vote is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 9. The second and final vote could come in January.

Why is this happening so fast?

The district says it needs to get the changes in place by early next year, when the student assignment process starts for 2009-10. One board member, Janet Clark, has expressed frustration, asking at the last workshop: "Why do we always end up having to rush these important decisions?"

Superintendent Julie Janssen responded, saying board members told her they wanted the new board to make budget decisions for next year. Janssen and her staff presented the proposals on Nov. 18, just two hours after the new board was seated.

How does all this save money?

District officials say they can save $6-million to $7-million in operating costs by closing and merging schools. They also say they would save busing costs by adding hundreds of fundamental middle school seats. (Students in Pinellas fundamental schools do not receive bus service.)

Revoking bus service for students not in their zone schools could save from $2.3-million to $7-million, depending on how broadly the board imposes the change. The district will need to make additional cuts to get to the $40-million mark.

. Fast facts

If you go

The Pinellas School Board will meet in a workshop from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. today at district headquarters, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo. The public can attend but is not invited to address the board.

Questions?

The Gradebook, the Times' education blog, will serve as an information hub on the Pinellas school closings issue with reader input, timely answers to your questions and a frequently updated Q&A. Just go to education.tampabay.com and click on the red apple.

Pinellas School Board faces tough choices on closures 12/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 11:35am]

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