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The recommendations to the School Board include details on a new student assignment plan.
Published Aug. 8, 2007

Pinellas school superintendent Clayton Wilcox has recommended closing five schools as part of an effort to slim down and redesign the system.

The schools are Clearview Avenue, Largo Central and South Ward elementaries, and two St. Petersburg middle schools - Riviera and Southside Fundamental. If approved by the School Board, the closings would take effect in the 2008-09 school year.

Unlike the other schools on the list, Southside would be merged with nearby Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle, a 4-year-old school with space to grow. Its upper level has never been completed.

The five schools were culled from an original list of 10, which did not include Southside. Officials expect the closings to save more than $72-million over the next five years, mostly by not having to renovate or rebuild the schools.

Wilcox's proposal, sent Tuesday to School Board members, also includes more details on a new student assignment plan that promises to dramatically change the district next year.

Among them:

- Families could better predict where their children will go to school as they rise through the system. Forty-six percent of students would stay together from elementary to high school.

- The district would be divided into new "attendance areas," and each school would have a zone from which to draw students. In a change from earlier versions, there would be six middle school areas instead of four and seven high school areas instead of two - a move to further reduce busing costs.

- The district estimates the new plan could save $5-million to $8-million annually in busing costs. Wilcox said he thought it would be more, but realized that some of the cost increases blamed on the choice plan were due to increased labor and fuel costs.

- Three elementary schools - Fuguitt, Skyview and Mount Vernon - would be turned into fundamental schools, with current students given the option to stay or go.

- Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Elementary in St. Petersburg would become a full-fledged math and engineering magnet school.

On the key issue of whether to allow students to finish out at their current choice schools or force them to move into their new neighborhood schools, Wilcox handed the board five options.

They range from a liberal "grandfathering" of all students into their current schools to the far less lenient stance of immediately forcing all students to move to their new neighborhood school.

The problem: After five years of the choice system, thousands of students find themselves in schools other than the one that would be their new neighborhood school.

News of the proposed closings did not go down well at Largo Central Elementary, where tearful parents last week asked the district to spare their school.

"I'm dumbfounded," said Debbie Stotts, a parent at Largo Central, which made the list because the district wants the site for an expansion at neighboring Largo High.

"It's not just a school they want to tear down for a parking lot, it's a community.''

At Gulf Beaches Elementary, one of several schools on the original list, parent Robin Ellis was happy that her three sons' school will stay open but worried it will make the list again.

"I've got another year to breathe easier," she said. "I guess we'll just sit tight and wait till next year."

District officials said they narrowed the field using several factors, including the cost of planned improvements at each targeted school and what the district spends on operating them. Some schools were spared because the district calculated they would need the seats to meet demand.

Riviera rose to the top of the list because it sits in a flood zone and was slated to be rebuilt at a cost of nearly $50-million.

The closings are part of an effort to address steady enrollment declines since 2001.

District officials did not classify Southside as a closing because they propose merging it with another school.

The aging building, at 1701 10th St. S, houses one of the county's oldest and most successful schools. It became a fundamental school in 1980.

"What we're worried about as parents is we want to stay together as a unit," said Helle Hartley, president of the school's PTA. She said some fear the fundamental program at Thurgood Marshall might differ from Southside's.

The closing would be part of a significant change in the district's lineup of fundamental programs. Wilcox proposes turning Coachman Fundamental Middle in Clearwater into a large fundamental elementary school and moving the middle school to Kennedy Middle School in Clearwater.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at or (727) 893-8923.

Fast Facts

What's next:

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox will formally present his new student assignment plan to the School Board at a workshop Thursday. The meeting will be carried live over the Web site for the district's television channel, WPDS-Ch. 14. To access the broadcast, go to and click the "Watch WPDS Online" link on the bottom left of the page. The board will discuss the plan from 10:45 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. The workshop will be broadcast on Ch. 14 at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Time line

Here is the School Board's time line to approve the new plan:

Thursday: Administrators present a detailed draft of the plan.

Aug. 21: Information on the draft plan is sent home with students on the first day of school.

Aug. 23: The board approves a "final draft" to be presented to the public.

Aug. 24 to Sept. 17: District administrators conduct three community meetings to get public advice on the draft.

Sept. 18: The board holds a workshop to consider what the public said in the community meetings.

Oct. 8, 9, 10: Board members conduct a "listening tour" to get more public opinion.

Oct. 16: The board takes an initial vote on the new plan after a public hearing.

Nov. 13: The board takes a final vote on the plan after a public hearing.