The Pinellas School Board will vote Tuesday on a new zone map for elementary schools. Here are some questions and answers about the issue.
Didn't we just do this?
Yes. The district established new zones just 10 months ago as part of a student assignment system that replaced the old "choice" plan. But things have changed dramatically since then. The School Board voted last month to close five elementary schools for the 2009-10 academic year. A sixth elementary school will close as a result of previous action. The moves help address a state fiscal crisis that is forcing Pinellas to cut more than $60-million from next year's budget. Gone with the six schools will be their zones. Hence the need to redraw the map.
How could my family be affected?
If your child is in a regular Pinellas elementary school, he or she child could be assigned to another school. That's because the effects of redrawing the map will ripple across the county. When drawing zone boundaries, the district tries to ensure each school will have enough seats to serve all the students living within its zone. Often, it's necessary to shift boundaries to make sure student populations align with available seats. "It's fair to say a number of zones were impacted slightly," said Jim Madden, assistant superintendent for student assignment. Students in magnet and fundamental elementary schools are not affected.
What happens if my child is zoned into a new elementary school?
You can elect to move to that school or you can remain in your current school. However, your child will not receive bus service if you remain in the current school.
That seems harsh. Why wouldn't my child get bus service?
Because the district is trying to reduce a busing budget that has swelled to nearly $50-million in recent years. In the current economic climate, the district says it can no longer afford to transport kids who go to school outside their zone.
How will I know if my child has been rezoned?
The district won't be mailing you any special letters so be alert for notices in your school newsletter and for announcements through the district's automated phone system. If your child has been rezoned, "you'll probably get more than one call," said Madden, the assistant superintendent.
When will all this happen?
In late February or early March, during one of the district's "open enrollment" periods. The district will publish a more precise time frame soon.
What steps will I need to take if my child is rezoned?
The district will steer you to the online Student Reservation System, where you will accept your new school assignment or elect to stay in your existing school and decline bus service. To use the system, you must have a Parent Connect user ID and password. If you don't have them, you can get a user ID and password by going to any school and showing a photo ID. The district will provide more specific instructions later. To get a look at the Student Reservation System, go to www.pcsb.org. The green logo is on the right panel of the home page.
Will my child still get bus service if she moves to her new zoned school?
Only if you live more than 2 miles from the new school, or if you qualify for special service such as a bus for exceptional education students.
How can I find out what my zone will be under the proposed new map?
Go to www.pcsb.org and find the "pcsNEWS" box on the home page. You will find links to zone maps and the district's new Zoned School Locator. Just type in your address.
Are middle and high schools affected too?
The School Board approved middle school zone changes last month. High school zones will not change next year.
Isn't it disruptive to keep redrawing school zones?
It can be very disruptive. But it has to be done to account for the school closings. Parents at the Jan. 13 School Board meeting implored the board to design a system that offers more stability. Many said all the changes prevented them from knowing where their kids were going to go to school year to year. But officials said they can offer no guarantees in an era when declining enrollment and state budget cuts will force the district to make periodic adjustments.
Will all this uncertainty end after this year?
Probably not. District officials now say that declining enrollment could prompt several rezonings in the next few years. The district says it has lost 10,000 students since 2003 and plans to lose an additional 10,000 by 2013. As that happens, the district says it will be forced to "right size" by closing more schools, which leads to zones having to be redrawn. At some point, the district says it may have to look at closing a high school.
Is this a done deal?
The School Board meets Tuesday at 10 a.m. to consider the new elementary zones and hear public comments. However, with the student assignment process for 2009-10 in full swing, the board is unlikely to make major changes.