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Pinellas School Board admits mistakes, but approves zone changes anyway

The Pinellas County School Board took the unusual step Tuesday of telling parents it made mistakes even as it voted for a zoning change the parents did not want.

Ultimately, the board voted 7-0 to approve zoning changes that will affect about 850 middle and high school students. But not until several members said they should have given parents near Dunedin High and Palm Harbor University High more notice about a last-minute change that will affect two dozen ninth-graders in the fall.

It wasn't until Feb. 18 that the district notified parents whose kids had been zoned for Palm Harbor University High — Pinellas' highest-performing high school — that they were now in a zone for Dunedin High. At that point, the parents had only two days left to apply for magnet and fundamental programs at other schools.

"That's unacceptable," said board chairwoman Carol Cook.

One of several parents who spoke against the change, Gregg Feingold, said he was conflicted about the board's words.

"I think they genuinely felt bad," said Feingold, whose daughter is an eighth-grader at Palm Harbor Middle. But "it doesn't help me tell my daughter she has to go to a different school."

The board didn't discuss adding the Palm Harbor-to-Dunedin piece until Feb. 8, the same time it directed superintendent Julie Janssen to take another piece from the southeast corner of the Tarpon Springs High zone and add it to the Palm Harbor zone. Essentially, the former helped offset the latter.

But the net change still means up to 73 more ninth-graders at Palm Harbor, already stuffed with 39 portables.

Board member Linda Lerner said the board should postpone changes to those three zones until it's clear what impact new magnet programs will have on school capacity.

But Cook said there will be unknowns next year, too.

Also making their case to the board Tuesday: parents from Safety Harbor Middle. Initially, the district proposed a three-way zoning swap among Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, and Dunedin Highland middle schools. But after Safety Harbor parents rallied, the district scaled back that plan and proposed that a single chunk on the east side of Dunedin Highland's zone be moved into Safety Harbor's, bringing up to 65 sixth-graders with it this fall. District officials said it will help Dunedin Highland accommodate a growing gifted program.

But Safety Harbor parents still oppose the plan. As he began his remarks, parent Richard Ireland unfurled a petition with 1,000 signatures. "We want you to stop the constant whipsaw back and forth" with frequent zoning changes, he said.

All in all, the zoning changes affect five of 15 high schools and 11 of 16 middle schools.

The board backed away from changing elementary zones this year after Janssen recommended more changes next year.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas School Board admits mistakes, but approves zone changes anyway 03/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 10:28pm]
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