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Vo-tech proposal unpopular

A groundswell of protest emerged eariler this month as news spread that the school district might eliminate the Seminole Vocational Education Center to help shave $19.7-million overall from the district's budget.

The Vo-Ed Center is at 12611 86th Ave. N on 47 acres next to Bauder Elementary School and across from Seminole High School. It serves about 650 kids in grades 9 through 12 from Seminole, Osceola and Largo high schools.

The district projects that closing the school would save $1.6-million. Most of that savings would be in teachers' and administrators' salaries and benefits, Pinellas County Schools spokesman Sterling Ivey said.

"We would be eliminating their positions at that site," Ivey said. The teachers and staff could apply elsewhere in the district, he said.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss the budget during a workshop Tuesdayat an undetermined time before the board's regular meeting. Ivey said the district hopes to have all the issues ironed out in time for a March 14 vote.

The possibility of closing the center sent shock waves through the Seminole community and e-mails were sent to the district protesting the closure.

Audrey Bray, who lives next door to the school, found out about the threat of closure from a neighbor. Since then, she said, it has been a major topic of conversation in the area and in e-mail traffic.

"That's a shock," Bray said. "It's been such a mainstay of the community."

The school fills several niches. Some of the students are at-risk kids who need smaller classes and a different teaching style to prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Others attend some classes to learn trades or specialties, such as carpentry, flower arranging, gas engine repair or the skills to become a veterinary technician.

No other school in Pinellas offers all that under one roof. That would make the loss incalculable, Bray said.

Referring to the vet-tech program and its hands-on experience with animals of all sorts - from tiny sugar gliders and fluffy rabbits to 1,300-pound steers and grunting pigs - Bray asked, "Where else are they going to learn about it? The Animal Planet?"

She added, "It's a unique thing. And as far as closing the vo-tech down, that's just totally ridiculous."

The closure would have a ripple effect throughout the county. The Seminole Kiwanis Club uses the school's horses and facilities for the group's handicapped riding program.

"It's not just the school system," Bray said. "It's part of the community."

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg College sends students to the school several times a week to work with the large animals. The large-animal experience is a requirement for the SPC program accreditation, said Dr. Guy Hancock, dean of the school of veterinary technology.

"It's going to be difficult for us," Hancock said. "It'll put us in a bind."

Hancock said he's not sure what SPC would do if the center closed, but a solution would have to be found. While an alternative could be found, the situation would be inconvenient and difficult for SPC students.

Ivey said he's aware of the partnership program with SPC, but if the center's program is closed, "That will just not be an option for (SPC) students anymore."

Ivey said it is unclear what would happen to the animals if the program closed. They could be moved elsewhere or the district might "try to locate them in someone else's care."

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