Learn more about Pinellas assignment plan
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01/08/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

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This fall, Pinellas County Schools plans to implement its new Student Assignment Plan with the goal of assigning students to close to home schools. This morning, the Pinellas County School Board met for the first time since the winter break.

There are alternatives to attending close to home schools: parents can chose to send their children to special schools, such as magnet, fundamental or career academy programs. The signup period for those special programs is Feb. 11-22.

Pinellas School Board member Linda Lerner asked for clarification of whether parents would know which close-to-home school their children had been assigned to before that signup period. Assistant Superintendent for Student Assignment James Madden Jr., said assigning the correct number of students to each close to home school was a complicated process, in part, because parents have the option of letting their children go to the school of an older sibling.

“We want to make sure that we’re able to not only address not only the sibling issue, but address the magnet issue without doing things to overfill our schools and jeopardize meeting class size. I would think that probably by the next board meeting we’ll have more information for you related to some specific dates that these kinds of things might happen.”

But Lerner was concerned that if parents did not know where their students were assigned, they would not have enough information to decide whether to choose a special school.

“Can we implement it? I think that was a question Dr. Wilcox put forward … can it really, realistically be implemented? And part of being implemented is knowing the close to home school before all this magnet, fundamental, career academy choice process begins. And I think that still obviously is the question, and I’m not saying that people are not doing all they can do, but as a board, we’re responsible for this communication part, too.”

Madden said the process is complicated, ”but we’re not going to say ‘no.’”

Also at the meeting, the Pinellas School Board unanimously approved $1.5-million in funding for air conditioning maintenance and other services from private contractors. But before the vote, Lerner raised questions about the efficiency of such a program. She asked for Pinellas County Schools to study outsourcing. Lerner suggested that the school district might save as much as $400,000 if it stopped laying off employees in the face of budget cuts and then outsourcing their jobs.

Leon Hobbs, Pinellas Schools’ Associate Superintendent for Facilities and Operations, assured the board that the contract was for temporary help during emergencies concerning heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The alternative would be to rely on staff working overtime.

“There is no overt action on our part to privatize. What we’re having to do is supplement because we have 17 million square feet of spaces to maintain. The number of personnel that we have in our HVAC, I think are probably 22 people, so that’s a lot of spaces for them to do. We have no vacancies in our department for HVAC people; we would have to cannibalize present positions to move them over. We have lost 50 positions to budget cuts in the last couple of years in that whole department.”

In addition to the property tax amendment that all Floridians will vote on in three weeks during the presidential primary election, Pinellas county voters will vote on a referendum to renew funds for schools.

Julie Janssen, deputy superintendent of Pinellas County Schools, explained why the funding is important.

“A reminder that this is not a new tax, it’s renewing what citizens approved in 2004. It will bring approximately $42-million a year to support students and schools. … These are local dollars, go directly to your local schools, goes into the classroom. It helps with teacher recruitment and retention. And there is an accountability system, in place; we have a committee of independent citizens that have been monitoring the expenditure of these funds, to assure the general public that funds are being spent exactly the way they have been told they will be spent.”

Parents and students who are interested in learning more about Pinellas magnet, fundamental and career academy schools, can attend information sessions before the Feb. 11-22 signup period. On Feb. 2 there will be an information fair at Pinellas Park High School from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Feb. 4-22, schools will hold "discovery nights) – dates and times will be mailed to fifth- and eighth-grade students and dates will be posted on the district website.

Learn more:

Pinellas County Schools

Student Assignment Plan

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections

County school tax renewal

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