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School Board to seek waiver on rezoning

The Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night not to rezone 14 schools next year that do not comply with a desegregation order while officials explore alternatives to busing and ratios.

The board's vote means the district will now seek court approval of the one-year waiver.

Nine schools in the southern portion of the county, where black residency is higher, slightly exceed the maximum of 30 percent black students. The elementary schools are Bay Point, Bear Creek, Lakewood, Melrose, Mount Vernon, Woodlawn and Madeira Beach. Bay Point Middle and Boca Ciega High schools also are not in compliance.

Elementary schools falling below the 5 percent minimum of black students are all in the northern part of the county, where black residency is lowest. They are Brooker Creek, Ozona, Palm Harbor, Leila Davis and Forest Lakes.

The school district and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund have been in discussions for the past year, negotiating the future of school desegregation in Pinellas County.

The NAACP has asked the school district to improve black student achievement and to address their low representation in magnet and gifted programs and their higher proportions in disciplinary and special education programs.

The school district has asked to raise the maximum ratio for black students to 35 percent and to eliminate the minimum percentage for north county schools.

School and civil rights officials will not say when a long-term settlement might be reached, but both sides have called the talks productive.

"Our commitment . . . is to make sure to get something to you as quickly as possible for final resolution," superintendent Howard Hinesley told the board Tuesday.

Hinesley also noted that the waiver on rezoning will not affect students now in the first year of a two-year busing rotation. Those students will return to their original schools the following year, as planned.