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Applying to magnets, fundamentals and career programs will come first.

Pinellas parents eager to learn their child's "close to home" school assignment for the 2008-09 academic year have another two months to wait, district officials have announced.

Before approving a plan in December that changed the way students will be assigned to schools, the district said it would produce maps showing the close-to-home zones around every school before the application period opened for magnet, fundamental and career academy programs.

Since then, officials have realized they need to fill seats in the special programs first. Without knowing how many students will accept seats in those programs, they say, the district risks creating zones with too many or too few students.

The upshot: Parents will be applying to and accepting seats in magnet, fundamental and career academy programs without knowing if they would like their close-to-home school better. And if they forgo the application process for magnet, fundamental and career academy programs and then end up not liking their close-to-home assignment, it will be too late for them to try for one of the special programs.

District spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said the new wrinkle shouldn't be a problem. What the district wants, Zahn said, is for families to think of the special programs as a first option rather than a Plan B.

The new student assignment plan, which replaces the choice plan, will steer most students to a school close to home while offering families choices in magnet, fundamental and career academy programs as it has in the past. The district will automatically assign children to their close-to-home school. Families must apply to the special programs, and placement will be determined by a lottery.

A provision of the new plan allows students to finish out at their current schools. The district will assume those students want to stay put, so families need not take any action unless the current school is not the close-to-home school and they wish to make the switch.

The application period for magnet, fundamental and career academy programs begins at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 11, but parents can begin shopping for them now, Zahn said.

To apply, parents will need their child's 10-digit student ID number, available from the school, or in the case of middle and high school students, from the child's report card.

Parents with children new to the system can get a student ID number by calling the district's call center at 587-2020 or the student assignment office at 588-6210. Parents also can go to the St. Petersburg Family Education and Information Center at 3420 Eighth Ave. S or the Clearwater center at 1101 Marshall St.

Fast facts

Important dates

Feb. 2: Information Fair, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Pinellas Park High School, 6305 118th Ave. N

Feb. 4-11: Discovery nights

Feb. 11-22: Application period for magnet, fundamental and career academy programs

March 10-16: Acceptance period for magnet, fundamental and career academy programs

Late March: Maps showing the close-to-home zones around schools will be available and the district will make close-to-home assignments

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