School board members will decide next month whether to move forward with a rezoning plan that could affect 2,100 students at 27 elementary schools, including Leila Davis, McMullen Booth, Sandy Lane, Ponce de Leon and Belcher elementary schools in Clearwater.
A vote at Tuesday's Pinellas County School Board meeting was the first of two needed to approve the plan, which would take effect during the 2012-13 school year. School officials say rezoning is needed to relieve crowding at some schools, while taking advantage of room at others.
In Clearwater, that would mean changing the boundaries of:
- . Students who live in the area bounded by Enterprise Road, State Road 580 and Widgeon Avenue would attend Safety Harbor Elementary. Those students currently attend Leila Davis.
- . Students who live in the area bounded by Sunset Point Road, Keene Road, Union Street and Hercules Avenue would attend Dunedin Elementary. Those students currently attend McMullen Booth. McMullen Booth would also gain students who live in the area bounded by Sunset Point Road, Keene Road, Hercules Avenue and the railroad tracks. Those students currently attend Sandy Lane Elementary.
- . Students who live in the area bounded by Sunset Point Road, Highland Avenue, Flagler Drive and Keene Road would attend Sandy Lane. Those students currently attend Dunedin Elementary. Sandy Lane would also give up some students to McMullen Booth (see above).
- . Students who live in the area bounded by East Bay Drive, Highland Avenue, Rosery Road and Keene Road would attend Ponce de Leon. Those students currently attend Belcher Elementary.
- . Students who live in the area bounded by U.S. 19, Haines Bayshore Road and Whitney Road would attend Belcher. Those students currently attend Frontier Elementary. Belcher would also give up some students to Ponce de Leon (see above).
Local Parents Speak Out Against Changes
About two dozen parents spoke against the changes Tuesday, including Robert Lasher of Clearwater, whose son has attended Leila Davis Elementary since the family moved to Pinellas County in 2008.
"His life has changed immensely" since he enrolled at Leila Davis, Lasher told the school board. "He's gone from a shy timid young man to someone who tries out for plays now."
After a recent apartment flood, Lasher relocated the family to a home within a mile of Leila Davis so his son could attend the same school. It wasn't easy to find a new home within the boundaries, he said, and he worked with school officials to make sure his son could stay. If the rezoning changes go through, he would have to decide whether to break his lease to keep his son at Leila Davis.
"I want to protect my child more than anything because he's where he loves his school, he gets awards all the time during their pep rallies, and he's very proud to be there," Lasher told the board. Board members thanked him for his comments.
Crowding Affects Quality of Education, District Says
School officials say crowding is having a negative effect on teachers, students and parents alike.
All of the elementary schools being recommend for rezoning have had to add portable classrooms to accommodate students, according to an overcrowding report on the district website [PDF]. That hurts teachers' ability to work as teams and has resulted in instructional time being cut to accommodate student movement from building to building. In some of the schools, libraries, basketball courts, hallways and closets have been turned into instructional space.
The crowding isn't limited to school hours, either. Drop-off and pickup areas are strained beyond capacity before and after school, which means parents and buses are stuck in long lines waiting to drop off and pick up students.
The crowding also negatively affects lunch times, prekindergarten programs, customer service and student access to computers and other equipment, the report says.
"The schools that are overcrowded have given up libraries, they've given up computer rooms, they have not had an effective and efficient way of working, so our capacity and class size amendment is an issue," school board member Linda Lerner said in Tuesday's meeting.
"I think we have to make it real clear to our community, we want stability, and that's what we hope that passing this recommendation will give to the schools, but never buy your house based on what schools are zoned for now," Lerner said.
The school board is scheduled to take a final vote on the rezoning plan at its Dec. 6 meeting.