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Perkin's stellar programs in jeopardy

Re: Magnet school fears crush of new students, March 5.

Like the commanding officers in the Joseph Heller classic, Catch-22, who kept fighter pilots from being transferred home by simply raising the number of bombing runs required for transfer every time someone came close, the officials responsible for implementing the choice plan in Pinellas County are playing fast and loose with the parents and children of Perkins Elementary by manipulating the number of students the school can hold.

I understand that even though the county was required to set a school's capacity before students made their choice selections months ago, the county recently decided to simply raise the number of students Perkins can supposedly hold in order to make their final choice numbers look better. Under the county's proposed plan, Perkins' enrollment would swell next year from its current capacity of 600 to almost 750 students. It takes only a cursory walk around Perkins to see that the school is completely full now, and that it would be fundamentally altered for the worse if its size were arbitrarily increased by a whopping 150 additional students. Its wonderful arts programs, teachers and facilities will be simply overwhelmed by too many students. County officials should be trying to find ways to clone the Perkins experience in schools elsewhere, not destroy it. And the terrible irony here is that the very qualities that make Perkins a model school, and so attractive to prospective students, will be summarily destroyed by overcrowding at a time when two new elementary schools down the street sit almost half-empty. I call that mismanagement and ineptitude of the highest order.

I'm furious about this plan, and I know that many other ordinary Perkins parents like myself are furious too. This is not what we bargained for, nor what the county promised us when we enrolled our children there. If this ill-conceived plan is ultimately put into effect over our collective objections, we should not forget who was on watch when that decision was made. We should make it our mission as voters to forcefully demonstrate to the elected officials responsible for these decisions, or for hiring those responsible for them, that these kinds of wrongheaded choices carry serious consequences at election time.

I call on Pinellas County School Board members Linda Lerner, Lee Benjamin, Nancy Bostock, Jane Gallucci, Mary Russell, Mary Brown and Carol Cook, and county officials Howard Hinesley, Cathy Athanson and Jim Madden to stop the plan to radically expand enrollment at this stellar school through the artificial and belated inflation of Perkins' capacity. Let Perkins remain Perkins.

Christopher B. Clark, St. Petersburg

Overcrowding Perkins is an outrage

I am the parent of two children who attend Perkins Elementary School. I am outraged at the increase in the number of students being pushed into the school next year. We have been pushed into the school choice program, which is proving to be a waste of taxpayers' money, and now our children's comfort level and security are being threatened.

Flooding the school with excess children because of the choice program is unfair to those of us who "paid our dues" and got our children in these preferred programs by application. Even though more parents have chosen Perkins, the resources have stayed the same.

I agree that Perkins is the best elementary school in the district, hands down. However, the students who were placed there by the application process should not have their programs changed due to the choice program. If the School Board did not intend to keep these programs in place, parents should have been notified prior to the choice forms and magnet application deadlines. What is the point of the magnet schools if the special programs that have appealed to the parents have to be decreased or cut out altogether?

These excess children should be sent to another elementary school _ there is a brand new school, not yet filled to capacity, within 2 miles of Perkins. Perhaps the better idea would be to have that school equipped to provide the same programs as Perkins _ then all of the children would get the benefits of Perkins' success.

Jenifer Rosenberger, St. Petersburg

Don't water down Perkins magnet

The choice plan threatens to dilute the fine magnet program at Perkins Elementary School with its rapid increase of students by the fall of this year. As a parent and a taxpayer, I am outraged at the thought that the newer choice program could very likely water down the well-oiled, smooth-running magnet machine that my daughter is a part of. Certainly, we understand the purpose and hope of choice _ to bring balance to public school enrollment by eliminating neighborhood zoning and opening up the opportunity for attendance to students all over the county. But let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Perkins' arts and international studies magnet program, which the county made a commitment to long before choice came along, was designed to bring quality schooling to bright students. These children are the great minds of our future. By suddenly increasing the school's population 25 percent, some of the magnet classes could disappear (such as drama and dance classes), while others would suffer a reduction in frequency and/or increase in classroom size (i.e., art, music, foreign language). The need for more classroom space could even threaten to eliminate gifted teachers at Perkins as well. In short, adding 120-150 more students to an already balanced enrollment of nearly 600 would completely change the complexion of the school itself and thus dilute the integrity of the magnet program.

I thought that we were all in agreement to make public schools better. What's more, what kind of effect will this have on our children? What's even more perplexing is that just "a few blocks away," newly built James Sanderlin Elementary School, which utilized the same floor plan as Perkins, will open its doors this fall and will be one-third empty after classes begin. Why spend taxpayer money and deliver portables to Perkins when Sanderlin has available classroom space a mile or so down the street?

Carl N. Minieri, N. Redington Beach

Perkin's success should be duplicated

The Pinellas County School Board is considering increasing enrollment at Perkins Elementary School by nearly 150 students. This increase in enrollment will cause considerable harm to the entire reason Perkins is such a successful magnet school. Perkins draws students from all over Pinellas County to south St. Petersburg. Its students will no longer have the enriched liberal-arts education exposure that all of our children should have.

Instead of potentially destroying an exemplary program at the county's most sought after magnet school, the county should try to duplicate the programs Perkins has at other schools. Magnet programs do work to develop racial, economic and ethnic diversity. This diversity adds to the rich educational environment that makes Perkins such a success.

Scott and Julie DelVecchio, St. Petersburg

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