November 27, 2014

Education: Choice or Chance?- Southwest/ Tampa Bay- March 2003

Amy Welch Brill | 3/1/2003
This fall more than 103,000 Pinellas County students will go to school under a new system called "controlled choice." The plan eliminates traditional zoning -- determining students' schools based on where they live -- and busing to achieve racial balance.

The plan asks parents to list their top five schools in order of preference. Using a random selection system, the school district fills a school with students who made it their first choice. Students who didn't get their first choice then go through the same process for their second-choice school.

To make sure schools stay racially balanced, officials subtract 15% from the total number of black students in each attendance zone. If that number doesn't match the number of black students at each school, the county must move students around.

"Grandfathering" allows students to continue attending zoned schools as long as their families do not move.

"The main goal of the plan is to provide a stable, integrated school population," says Andrea Zahn, coordinator of communication and marketing for Pinellas County's choice plan.

The move to controlled choice hasn't been smooth, however. Many parents complained that the application form was confusing. The county didn't help matters when it erroneously sent letters to hundreds of parents who had already sent in their forms, urging them to turn in their paperwork. Parents were further discouraged when the county said it will delay, by three months or more, letting them know which schools their children will attend. In addition, Superintendent Howard Hinesley announced plans to retire next year, just as the new system heads into full swing.

Parents aren't alone in their concerns. The school board and Hinesley -- who developed the system as part of an agreement with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund -- also have new problems to address, such as deciding where to place the 18,000 students who have not returned applications. There's also additional busing, which is estimated to cost about $7 million more annually.

Lee County, which adopted a similar plan five years ago, is still having problems with its choice system. The Lee County School Board held an emergency meeting in December to hire 89 more bus drivers because 4,500 students were arriving late to school. Problems with choice created such a ruckus that the board wants to oust Superintendent John Sanders for poor oversight. Meanwhile, Hillsborough County will implement a similar plan next year.

Despite the headaches, Pinellas school officials say the new plan is better overall. "Instead of having the school board decide where students should go, now we can achieve diversity through parent choice," says Zahn.

IN THE NEWS

Lakeland -- After a rocky two-year relationship with Lakeland city commissioners, Lakeland Electric General Manager Keith Hulbert resigned early this year. Hulbert, 41, was hired by the city to diversify the utility, but commissioners were reluctant to enter into new business ventures, he says. Hulbert will become COO at Lakeland-based Viasys Corp., which lays utility and fiber-optic lines.

Naples -- Tim Constantine, a former Collier County commissioner, was sentenced to one year in prison for using his influence to get a $100,000 business loan from backers of Stadium Naples, a 12,000-seat arena that was never built.

Safety Harbor -- Orlando-based Village Partners plans to begin building a $20-million complex on the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Main Street in Safety Harbor in June. The four-building project will include a restaurant, offices, retail space, 18 condominiums and six two-story town houses.

Sarasota -- Honeywell International acquired Sarasota-based Baker Electronics, an aircraft cabin management systems supplier, for an undisclosed price. Baker will change its name to Honeywell Cabin Management Systems and Services.

Southwest Florida -- More than 5,000 people have moved to southwest Florida, mostly to Naples, from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties since 1999, according to the Internal Revenue Service, which tracks changing addresses among taxpayers.

Lakeland -- International Paintball Manufacturing Corp. secured $1.5 million in financing from United Kingdom-based Mercatus & Partners.

Danka Business Systems is selling a unit that sells and services Toshiba copiers in the Netherlands for about $6.7 million to Toshiba TEC Germany Imaging Systems.

Raymond James Financial (NYSE-RJF) is revamping its board to give outside directors a majority presence. Huntington James, son of Raymond James Chairman Thomas A. James, is one of five company board members losing a seat.

Tampa-based Opus South Corp. plans to build a $70-million, 30-story condominium tower on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg, replacing the Beach Park Motor Inn. The project is supposed to start by the end of the year and include 120 condos, a restaurant, offices and shops.

Stetson University College of Law has broken ground on a branch in Tampa, the city's first law school. The school will be built on 7.3 acres on Tampa Street just off Interstate 275.

After a year of missing its $18,871 monthly rent at the Tampa Port Authority's headquarters, Tampa Bay's World Trade Center faces eviction. The trade center, charged with attracting international business, subleases the space from the city of Tampa.

Tampa Bay -- Federal agents raided offices, homes and gaming ships of Stardancer Casino owners, seizing six boats in Tampa Bay. Agents are investigating investor Mark Steven Miller, who allegedly funneled $15.5 million from the Ohio bank where he worked to Stardancer operations.

After several delays, the builder of Tampa Bay Water's $110-million desalination plant says it needs another four months and $1.8 million to complete the plant, which was supposed to begin operating in January. Covanta Energy, which filed for Chapter 11 reorganization last year, stepped in as the plant's builder and operator after the previous builder filed for bankruptcy.

Tags: Southwest, Tampa Bay

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