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Fourth try for Perkins: another list, longer wait

The disheartening news arrived in Deborah Breitel's mailbox on Tuesday.

Her 7-year-old daughter Evalyne has been placed on the waiting list for a spot at Perkins Elementary School for the Arts and International Studies _ again.

This is the fourth year she has applied for a spot for her daughter at the popular school. The first year, Evalyne's number was "50-something." Heading into first grade, Evalyne was No. 67. The third time around, the child drew No. 6 for a seat in this year's second-grade class.

"This year was the most exciting," said Breitel, explaining that Evalyne has since moved up to No. 5. "When you get within the first 10, you really think you're going to get in."

But on Tuesday, Breitel found out Evalyne is No. 33 on the list for next year.

"You feel so hopeless," she said. "I probably won't ever get her in there."

Evalyne is among 6,500 children who applied for spots in countywide magnets, fundamental schools and career academies for 2003. Parents learned last week whether their children were accepted or put on waiting lists for the coveted spots. Those who secured seats have until Wednesday to accept or decline invitations.

Some children are on two wait lists at the same school _ one for this year and one for next year. If they applied last year and did not get in, they have one number that lasts through this school year. If they applied this year, they have another number for next year, based on the latest lottery.

Many parents are in Breitel's position. New lists are started each year while current lists are maintained throughout the year for which elementary and middle school students have applied. (High school lists expire on the 11th day of second semester.)

In Evalyne's case, if the handful of children ahead of her get into Perkins or remove their names from the list before May, she will be able to finish second grade there.

She will be guaranteed a spot for next year, even if she doesn't get in until after Dec. 13, the deadline for grandfathered status in what are considered zoned schools this year. But if the list doesn't "move," she will begin third grade at No. 33, the number she drew this year.

While she has been waiting to get into Perkins, Evalyne has been attending Northside Christian, the school her older sister, Lacey, attended through eighth grade.

Breitel would like to keep Evalyne at Northside, but as a single parent, she worries about rising tuition. She considers Perkins the closest thing to a private school without the cost.

But with her hopes of securing a spot for Evalyne fading, she visited a family education and information center on Thursday. She filled out a choice application, the form necessary for students new to the district, and chose five attendance area schools for Evalyne based on their proximity to her home.

Frustrated by the district's system of placing students in elementary magnet programs, she wishes she didn't have to start over every year.

"They say it's just like the lottery. It's a luck thing," she said.

Getting into a magnet or fundamental school, at least at the elementary level, is a matter of luck, said Christine Lowry, director of magnet and fundamental school programs. Grades are taken into consideration at the middle and high school levels, but for elementary students, it's strictly a numbers game.

Once a child secures a spot in a magnet or fundamental school, he or she is guaranteed a seat at the school through the highest grade. Because students rarely leave once they get in, nearly all of the seats available for 2003-04 at many schools, including Perkins, are for incoming kindergarteners.

"It's really heartbreaking for a parent to see they've been on a waiting list for a year at No. 5 and now they're No. 33," said Pat Archibald. Perkins' magnet coordinator. "They know that if they didn't get in when they were at No. 5, they'll never get in at No. 33."

Breitel is trying to remain optimistic about Evalyne's chances.

"My biggest hope is for her to be at Perkins. That would be the most perfect thing for me, but it's like wishful thinking," she said. "Four more children have to leave before May, and I don't think it's going to happen.

"It's in my prayers, but it doesn't look like she's ever going to get in. I'm just going to keep applying all the way up to middle school."

_ Do you have a story about negotiating the new school choice plan? Please let Donna Winchester know at 893-8826; fax 893-8675; e-mail; or P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.