PINELLAS COUNTY - The Pinellas County School Board voted 7-0 on Jan. 13 to approve the second reading of the Student Assignment plan.
The issues in this plan include closing six schools; consolidating Coachman Fundamental Middle School into Kennedy Middle School to make it a fully fundamental school; consolidating Southside Fundamental Middle School into Madeira Beach Middle School to make it a fully fundamental school; and allowing grandfathering if those students can get transportation other than busing.
The board must cut $70 million from its budget due to state government budget cuts and declining enrollment, so the board deemed it necessary to close schools among many other ways to save money.
The school closings are: Clearview Avenue Elementary, Gulf Beaches Elementary, Kings Highway Elementary, North Ward Elementary, Palm Harbor Elementary and Rio Vista Elementary.
Dozens of speakers pleaded with the board not to close their schools, including St. Pete Beach Commissioner Linda Chaney and Treasure Island Mayor Mary Maloof speaking for Gulf Beaches Elementary.
The board debated whether to keep Gulf Beaches open for one year so the local community could figure out a way to save the school, but ultimately it decided to proceed with closing all the schools.
School board member Mary Tyus Brown said she has been to Gulf Beaches and has attended its annual fish broils and sympathizes with that community.
“I would love to keep it open,” Brown said. “I would love to keep all of our schools open that we are going to close. Every single one. Because every one is a community school, but we can’t do that. And there is just no way I can say, OK, leave Gulf Beaches open and we need to close six schools. What other school would we choose?”
Brown said she has spoken to the Pinellas County Schools attorney and the assistant superintendent of student assignment about how the district will place children, faculty and staff in other schools and about other of her concerns. She said she is confident that all will be handled well and she is also confident that wherever students attend school that their parents will be involved and help their children be successful.
“I think the thing of it is that our children are flexible,” Brown said. “But we have to help them through this. We have to let them know that their lives are going to be OK. In a home and you have four, five children and you lose your job, you’re going to help those children understand it’s going to be all right. We’re going to make it through this. So I’m asking you to share that with your children, whether you stay in your grandfathered school or you go to another school, help your children understand it is going to be all right. That they’re going to have great teachers, they’re going to have some of their old friends and they’re going to make new friends. But most of all, you’re going to be there and you’re going to be helping them.”
The board also addressed the audience’s concerns about consolidating the four middle schools into two fundamental schools. The schools are to be fully fundamental schools with all the current policies. The administration will soon begin the process of determining which faculty and staff wants to be part of the new fundamental schools.
Regarding all faculty and staff who will lose their current school, Superintendent Julie Janssen assured the board and audience that they will be placed first before other personnel and new employees.
Many community members expressed concerns about grandfathering children into their current school, even if that is not their zoned school.
The rules on student assignment that the board voted on are as follows: All students in grades K-4 will be assigned to their zoned school starting in the 2009-2010 school year and may remain there until the highest grade offered. However, parents of elementary children in a non-zoned school this year may specifically request to remain at that school and will be given a priority as space allows and if they can provide their own transportation. There will be no busing for grandfathered students. Madden predicts that most children will be able to stay in their current school if they wish.
If younger siblings begin kindergarten next year or later, they will be assigned to their zoned school, but a parent may request them to attend the grandfathered school of an older sibling. The younger student will be admitted on a space available basis.
The board unanimously agreed that stability is important, so once a child is admitted as a grandfathered student, they may stay in that school through the highest grade offered.
Approved middle school zones and a draft of elementary school zones for the 2009-2010 school year are available at www.pinellas.k112.fl.us.