CLEARWATER — Cristina Camarillo idled in the pickup line at McMullen-Booth Elementary School Friday, the seventh car back in a bumper-to-bumper line of parents waiting to fetch their children.
Camarillo shows up early so she can be near the front of the line when her 7- and 10-year-olds emerge. Waiting is something parents at the school have to get used to. The school has created three car-circle accesses to try to corral all the vehicles that descend on the school at dismissal time. It's a hectic scene repeated every day at the overcrowded school.
Visit McMullen-Booth Elementary and school officials say you'll likely find teachers holding classes outside — because there's no room inside.
Principal Sherry Aemisegger said the staff at the 856-student school has gotten quite skilled in the art of creating and sharing space.
"We feel like we're using every nook and cranny," she said.
They've added tables to the cafeteria and even on the stage. The school's counselor shares a small room with the teacher who works with gifted students. A closet has been converted to a small room where itinerant instructors can meet with students.
Pinellas County School District officials point to schools like McMullen-Booth as they make their case for rezoning and sending students who were grandfathered into schools outside their zones back to their neighborhood schools.
At a recent Pinellas County School Board workshop, district officials noted that McMullen-Booth had 144 out-of-zone students. Its zone also had 75 students who couldn't get into the school because of capacity and class-size issues.
On Tuesday, the school board will take the first of two votes on a proposal to change zoning lines for 27 of the district's 63 zoned elementary schools.
According to district figures, about 1,600 students now in grades K-3 will end up in different schools next fall because of the new zoning lines.
Another 1,700 to 1,800 in K-3 will end up elsewhere because of accompanying policy changes for out-of-zone students.
The school board indicated its decisions will not impact this year's fourth-graders.
Affected families are angry and confused.
Nobody wants their child uprooted. Many think the district is breaking an unwritten promise. Others are skeptical about the district's data and motives and long-range planning.
But board members say the changes, although painful, are necessary.
For all kinds of reasons — shifting populations, two rounds of school closings, the popularity of school choice options — the district has become lopsided. Some schools are spilling over. Others have empty classrooms.
The result has left some kids unable to attend their zoned schools. It has created inefficiencies with busing and portable classrooms.
It's unclear what savings may be wrung from right-sizing schools. But a single portable costs $2,952 to $6,840 a year to rent.
Clearly, there are other costs, too.
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At Ozona Elementary, the basketball court is now home to seven portables. The school added a fourth lunch with the first starting at 10:25 a.m., according to school officials.
And a technology lab is now a classroom for gifted students and an audiovisual closet has been transformed into a makeshift technology lab.
Other schools also have converted every available space into classrooms.
The library at Shore Acres Elementary in St. Petersburg is now home to 36 desks and marker boards and teachers with two back-to-back classrooms of third-graders.
Shore Acres is built for 650 students. It has 910. Much of the overflow is stuffed into eight boxy portables, podded together like a mobile home park. The library conversion began this school year.
"A lot of our parents were pretty upset," said principal Bonnie Cangelosi. "They were just like, 'How could a school have no library?' "
Cangelosi considered adding two more portables instead, but they would have big-footed the last rectangle of grass available for physical education classes. So the library fell victim, along with a piece of the school's mission.
It's a haul to walk from the portables to the lunch room. Or to the art and music rooms. Each way, kiss five or six minutes goodbye.
"Bathroom break" takes on new meaning. Some of the portables aren't equipped with restrooms. So it takes a few minutes for a student to get to one of the portables that does or to a restroom in the main building.
Then there's the car circle. Most kids are transported by their parents, which makes drop-off time intense on good days. And when it's storming? Push the 7:45 a.m. start time back five or 10 minutes.
"It all compounds and gets into instructional time," Cangelosi said. That's "what people don't understand."
Maybe they'll understand this: With so many students, first lunch at Shore Acres has to start at 9:35 a.m.
Yes. Lunch at 9:35. Said Cangelosi: "We only have so many seats in the cafeteria."