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Don't disrupt families, they beg the board, which is pondering a redesign of the system.
Published Aug. 2, 2007

Dozens of parents told the Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday night that a proposed redesign of the school system would hurt their families.

Some said a proposal to close several schools would disrupt their children's education, break apart schools that are working and bring a sad end to long traditions.

Others said they feared the planned transition to a system of neighborhood schools would force their children out of schools they've become attached to.

Many were near tears as they approached the board.

"You can tear down the walls of our school, but we beg you not to tear down the families that are inside," said Kristin Vogt Gonzalez, who has two children at Largo Central Elementary.

The school is one of 10 being considered for closure as the district seeks to address enrollment declines while it changes to a new student assignment system. Largo Central could be closed because district officials say it might be needed for an expansion of neighboring Largo High.

"Our school's worth saving," said Becky Kindelspire, another Largo Central parent. "We love our faculty. We love our staff.''

Another group of parents said a proposed change to a system of neighborhood schools threatens to violate promises the district made to parents who applied for schools through the choice plan.

The new plan would divide the district into eight attendance areas for elementary schools, four for middle schools and two for high schools. Each school would be surrounded by a zone, and students would be assigned to the school in the zone where they live.

The difficulty comes in transitioning to such a system after five years of choice, when families were encouraged to select schools well outside their neighborhoods. Officials are considering a new plan that would force many children out of their choice schools and into their new neighborhood schools.

Many parents argued their children should be "grandfathered" in and allowed to finish out at their choice schools.

"It's an issue that strikes close to the heart for a lot of people," said Machon Kennedy, a parent from Brooker Creek Elementary and an organizer of a group that has collected more than 950 signatures in support of the grandfathering idea.

The new plan was not on Tuesday's agenda, so board members did not react to the parents' comments. The board will see a more complete draft of the plan at an Aug. 9 workshop.