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School enrollment comes up short

When Pinellas County school officials counted pupils last month, they finished before they expected to. There were about 1,600 fewer students than projected.

School superintendent Howard Hinesley said projections for next year's enrollment are much more conservative. And because enrollments this year are lower than expected, some plans are being put on hold.

"Because of our low enrollment, we're re-evaluating so we don't over-build," Hinesley told the School Board on Wednesday.

One plan put in limbo is the re-opening of 54th Avenue Elementary in St. Petersburg. The school closed in 1974 to become an annex of Northeast High. Recently, school officials planned to reopen it.

To reopen as an elementary, renovations would be required but the plan "has had a hold put on it," said Jim Miller, director of property management.

Total enrollment in Pinellas, measured on Sept. 9, was at 96,109, an increase of just two students from 1991-92, and about 1,600 fewer students from what school officials projected. The enrollment has since climbed to 96,378, according to figures supplied by school planning specialist Marlene Mueller.

The projected enrollment for 1993-94 is 97,080, a conservative number according to Hinesley and Mueller.

"There are so many variables," Mueller said. "If we lived in a little cornfield in Kansas, where student go to the same school where their parents and grandparents went . . . but we have a very transient population, in difficult economic times, in a metropolitan area."

The 1992-93 projection will evolve as Mueller conducts more studies. And those numbers may decide future projects.

Current projects, such as the opening of Joseph Carwise Middle School in Palm Harbor scheduled next fall are not affected. Also, at Wednesday's School Board meeting, a $7-million expansion for Northeast High was approved.

In other School Board news, the board voted unanimously to join St. Petersburg Junior College in suing the city of St. Petersburg over stormwater drainage fees. The school systems contend that the city is illegally taxing them through "fees" because they are exempt from property taxes.

"The school systems are being treated as a customer by the city, instead of being treated as a partner," board member Ron Walker said. "We are paying taxes like we are Coca-Cola or some other company."

Hinesley said he hoped something could be worked out with new St. Petersburg City Manager Norman Hickey, but the legal action was needed because of three years of frustration with the city.

"We've had a deaf ear turned to us by the prior administration," Hinesley said.