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Rezoning plan affects 900 students

The Pinellas School District is rolling out proposed zoning changes that will affect about 900 middle and high school students if the School Board okays them.

District officials call the changes minor, but the reaction from parents remains to be seen.

There's also more to come. Proposed changes to the elementary school zones are still on the drawing board. And it's not clear how many families will be affected by them.

"We know we'll have more kids impacted in elementary … but I really can't even take a guess at it right now," said Dee Burns, the district's director of student assignment.

The School Board will consider the middle and high school changes Tuesday. A final vote is scheduled for Feb. 8. That's also when the board will take a first crack at the proposed new elementary zones.

The changes are the result of an annual review process that considers a long list of factors, including neighborhood changes, school capacity, state-mandated class-size limits and school choice programs such as magnets and fundamentals.

This year's rezoning comes on the heels of a new student assignment plan, crafted by superintendent Julie Janssen, that will put new academic programs into many schools, such as an International Baccalaureate program at Largo High.

Burns said the district did not want to make major changes to the zoning lines when it's unclear how many students will be drawn to the new programs.

The district's application period for school choice programs runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 20. The acceptance period is March 14-20.

"We really do have to wait and see how this whole thing shakes out," Burns said.

According to district calculations, 182 eighth-graders and 724 fifth-graders will find themselves zoned into different schools than they expected next year.

Another 517 current high school students and 1,365 current middle school students will also be in new zones. But the staff recommendation is for them to be allowed to stay in their current schools and continue getting transportation.

Among the issues that will cause heartache: what to do with siblings.

Burns said it's likely the district will allow an older brother already attending a middle or high school to join his younger sibling at their new zoned school. But it's not likely that the younger sibling will be allowed to join the older one at a school where they are no longer zoned to attend.

The biggest changes will be at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle in Largo, which will have 190 fewer sixth-graders next year under the proposed changes. Two big reasons, Burns said: The school is overcrowded. And the fledgling gifted program there will reach capacity.

Not every school is affected. The district is proposing changes to 11 of 16 middle schools and only five of 15 high schools.

None of the high school zones are in St. Petersburg, even though Janssen and members of an influential education group in the black community suggested this summer that some of those lines needed to be tweaked. The concern: that the current lines put a disproportionate number of struggling students into schools like Gibbs High.

It wasn't immediately clear late Wednesday why the district didn't propose redrawn lines for St. Petersburg high schools.

But Watson Haynes, who heads the group whose members had pressed the issue, said there were more important issues for it to tackle now. He also said the district had promised the group a comprehensive plan to improve the plight of black students, which could include boundary changes.

Until that emerges, "we felt like we needed to move the zoning issue to the side," Haynes said.

The district is mailing letters to the affected families today. It's also planning two public meetings in coming weeks to get feedback from parents.

Board member Terry Krassner said she expected the decisionmaking process to go smoother that it had with the rollout of the student assignment plan, which drew persistent complaints from parents about a lack of input and research.

"I think we've learned our lessons," she said.

Ron Matus can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8873.

.Fast facts

Rezoning time line

Tuesday: First reading at School Board meeting on proposed changes for middle/high schools.

Thursday: "Community listening sessions" on proposed middle/high school changes; Gibbs High, St. Petersburg, 7-8:30 p.m.

Feb. 3: "Community listening sessions" on proposed middle/high school changes, Countryside High, Clearwater, 7-8:30 p.m.

Feb. 8: Final vote on middle/high school changes; first reading on proposed changes for elementary schools.

March 8: Final vote on elementary school changes.

Zoning impacts, school by school

The following shows the net change of incoming sixthgraders and ninth-graders at the middle and high schools that will be affected by proposed rezoning:

Middle schools

Azalea: 26

Dunedin Highland: -46

John Hopkins: 92

Largo: -37

Meadowlawn: 18

Morgan Fitzgerald: -190

Oak Grove: -46

Osceola: 37

Palm Harbor: -1

Pinellas Park: -31

Safety Harbor: 45

Tyrone: 35

High schools

Dunedin: 42

Largo: -44

Palm Harbor: 54

Seminole: 44

Tarpon Springs: -96

Rezoning plan affects 900 students 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 9:22pm]
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