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Parents resist school rezoning moves

Even though the Pinellas County School District recently scaled back a plan to rezone some schools, parents still are rallying against it. They say rezoning will disrupt children's lives unnecessarily and overcrowd some schools in an attempt to ease crowding at others.

The most vocal critics are parents of children who attend Safety Harbor Middle School, who say rezonings in Pinellas are too frequent and too drastic.

"Rezoning should be a tweak around the edges, not a major whipsaw every other year," said Richard Ireland, whose sixth-grade son attends Safety Harbor Middle.

He's making the case with videos on YouTube and a Facebook page called Stop Pinellas Rezoning, which has more than 115 members. Ireland claimed the district did little homework before making sweeping zoning recommendations.

But school district officials said they were well-aware of the sensitivity of the issue and made sure to research the individual factors that influence capacity at each school.

"I assure that we did lots of homework before we rolled anything out to the School Board," said deputy superintendent Jim Madden.

The initial north county middle school rezoning proposal called for students to be shifted among zones for Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor and Dunedin Highland middle schools, effectively adding 45 students from Dunedin Highland's zone to Safety Harbor's zone next year.

The latest plan, tweaked in response to parents' concerns, would move a single section of Dunedin's zone, bringing as many as 65 new sixth-graders from Dunedin to Safety Harbor next fall.

Several parents aren't in favor of that proposal either.

"I wish I could convince the groups that even though they're not getting their way, we've heard them and we've considered what they've told us," superintendent Julie Janssen said Friday.

Some Safety Harbor Middle parents insist the school is crowded already. And they say the problem will only get worse.

"The board needs to sit down and see where they're going to put these kids because there is no room at Safety Harbor Middle," said Heidi Petitt, whose son attends sixth grade there.

District officials say Safety Harbor, which has 1,373 students and a capacity of 1,527, is far from crowded. Dunedin Highland, which has 1,276 students and a capacity of 1,475 (including its portables), needs relief, they say.

Dee Burns, the district's director of student assignment, said Safety Harbor Middle has no portables and uses four classrooms as computer labs. But Dunedin Highland has seven portables and uses none of its regular classrooms as labs, she said.

And, according to Marshall Touchton, school district demographer, officials expect 132 new sixth-graders at Dunedin's gifted program next fall.

Lorrie Kohli who has three children at three different schools, said she understands the need for occasional small-scale rezoning, but she believes Pinellas rezoning is too frequent and too broad.

"Parents are just tired of all of these changes," said Kohli, whose son is a sixth-grader at Safety Harbor Middle. In 2008-2009, after ending the school choice plan, the district created neighborhood school zones.

Touchton said the last time the district rezoned students was in the 2009-2010 school year, and that decision was based on the closing of six elementary schools and the conversion of two middle schools to fundamental schools.

Ireland, one of the rezoning critics, contended that if 65 new students come to Safety Harbor each year, the school will be overcapacity in three years.

But Touchton said there will likely be fewer than 65 additional students from the rezoned area each year. The district expects that some rezoned students will decide to attend programs at other schools, such as charters or fundamentals, he said.

Several of the parents said they were speaking out for other parents and were worried about crowding at their child's school.

Julie Pollitt, however, said elementary school rezoning may split her sons between two schools. Her first-grader may be able to stay at McMullen-Booth Elementary, but her kindergartener next year may be zoned for Sandy Lane Elementary.

"They're moving all of these kids around to balance out the seats," Pollitt said. "If we keep doing this, it will never stop."


Board workshop

Potential changes to the original rezoning recommendations will be discussed at the School Board's 9 a.m. workshop Tuesday. The School Board will take its final vote on the zoning changes at its 10 a.m. meeting March 15. The school administration building is at 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo.

Dunedin Highland Middle

Current enrollment: 1,276

Capacity (including seven portables): 1,475

Safety Harbor Middle

Current enrollment: 1,373

Capacity: 1,527

Source: Pinellas County Schools

Parents resist school rezoning moves 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 8:40pm]
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