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Choice school picks delayed for few days

The computer lottery process that will determine where thousands of Hillsborough County public school students will go to school next year under the new controlled choice plan has been slightly delayed.

As of Tuesday, administrators were still figuring how many spaces would be available for choice students in each of the schools.

They hope to open up enough spaces to maximize the number of students who receive their first choice of schools, without creating overcrowded campuses.

"We've never done this before," said Hillsborough school spokesman Mark Hart.

Hart said the computer match process should be run by Monday. The district had planned to begin notifying parents Friday, but now it may not be until next week.

"The reason we're taking so much deliberation with this is because it is the first time we're doing it," he said. "The success of the program will hinge on what students get their first choice."

The choice plan, an alternative to assigning children to neighborhood schools, replaces busing for desegregation. It begins in the fall.

Between Nov. 15 and Jan. 9, parents submitted applications listing their top school choices within seven geographic regions. Students will be randomly assigned by computer to schools based on their addresses and capacity of the schools.

As of Tuesday, 6,384 applications of students wanting to attend schools other than their assigned ones had been entered into the system. Another 3,500 bused students have indicated they want to stay at their existing schools instead of attending schools closer to home.

In all, 50,000 students were eligible for choice.

Hillsborough deputy superintendent Randy Poindexter said school capacity numbers will be finalized this week based on the number of classrooms in the school and anticipated enrollment next year.

The caps are projections, meaning they are imprecise.

District officials plan to run tests with the applications, and based on how many students get their top picks, they may move the school caps up or down.

It is likely that some schools in high-growth areas that are already crowded, such as Riverview High School, will accept few if any choice students.

In recent years, the School Board has refused to enroll students in schools that are at full capacity.

"We use the word controlled choice," Poindexter said. "We are trying to control the capacity of the schools."

The ultimate goal of the controlled choice plan is to keep schools racially diverse voluntarily.

Because the school district can no longer use race to assign students to schools, it is using neighborhoods to drive its assignment of children.

The computer will give preference to students living in urban areas who want to attend suburban schools and vice versa.

Students participating in choice are not the first ones assigned to schools. Neighborhood children and magnet students get the first vacancies, followed by students on special assignment and bused students who have indicated a desire to stay at their current schools.

The remaining spaces, if there are any, are available for choice students.

Not everyone will be happy with their choice selections.

There is no formal appeal process for students who are unhappy with their schools. They can, however, apply for special assignment through June 30, but parents must provide transportation to the requested schools.

For the first time, students need no special excuse, such as proximity to after-school care, to apply for special assignment. Students will be assigned to schools on a first come, first serve basis where space is available.

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