Pinellas to close eight schools

01/13/09 Seán Kinane
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Faced with declining enrollment and a massive budget shortfall, the Pinellas County School Board unanimously voted this afternoon to close six elementary schools and two middle schools. The board also adopted a student assignment model where transportation will not be provided to most students who attend schools outside of their assigned school zone.

Jim Madden, assistant superintendent for Student Assignment in Pinellas Schools, said the district has lost 10,000 students in the last five years and will lose another 10,000 by 2013. The school district needs to cut $69 million from the 2009-10 school year budget.

Closing these six elementary schools, which includes one already singled out for closing in the current school year budget, would save $4.2 million, according to Pinellas Superintendent Julie Janssen. Consolidating four middle schools into two schools would save almost an additional $2 million.

Parents and teachers from the eight affected schools pleaded with the School Board to keep their neighborhood schools open. Tim George, a teacher at Rio Vista Elementary, took a personal day off to plead for to the School Board to not close his school.

St. Petersburg Beach Commissioner Linda Chaney was one of eight people to speak against closing Gulf Beaches Elementary School on the barrier island.

Six members of the Palm Harbor Elementary community, including Angela Katz, unsuccessfully asked the Pinellas School Board to save their school.

The board also adopted a new model where students would be assigned to a school zone beginning in the 2009-10 school year. Some students would have an option to attend a school outside their zone, but in most of those cases the school district would no longer provide transportation.

Currently, students are allowed to attend schools outside their assigned boundaries because of the former school choice plan. Some Board members were concerned that the current re-zoning might have to be repeated next year, but Assistant Superintendent for Student Assignment Jim Madden said that it was unlikely, but not guaranteed, that redrawing school attendance boundaries would not be needed again for a few more years.

While the school closings and changes to student assignment policy were passed unanimously, one more vote is needed to finalize the changes to elementary school assignment zones. The School Board will vote in February to finalize those maps.

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