Collier School Board votes to rezone Naples elementary and high schools

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— Some Gulf Coast High School Sharks need to prepare to call themselves Golden Gate Titans.

The Collier County School Board voted 4 to 1 to rezone Naples elementary and high schools Thursday. Board member Pat Carroll was the lone dissenter.

The board also voted unanimously to use a combination of rezoning and portables in Immokalee to accommodate overcrowding.

However, the School Board decided to keep the school-choice and out-of-zone policies for students as they are. That means a student can go to a school other than the one they are zoned for if they present a valid reason, such as child care issues at the elementary level or because they attend an academy at one of the high schools.

The decision goes against a recommendation from the School Board’s operations subcommittee, which voted Tuesday to recommend bringing in portables instead of rezoning schools to meet class size amendment requirements.

Collier County’s middle schools were not included in the decision because they have enough space to meet the class size requirements.

Superintendent Dennis Thompson has argued that rezoning schools would allow schools that are currently half occupied to be fully used while not committing the district to costs that it cannot get back. The district has estimated that portables could cost more than $3 million to purchase and operate.

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo said cost was a big factor in her vote. She said she could not in good conscience vote to bring in portables at a cost of $50,000 per portable when the district has half-empty schools.

“Rezoning is not an easy decision,” said Curatolo. “We’re going to get input from the community and hopefully do what’s best for the most students.”

Board member Steve Donovan said he believed rezoning would correct some inequities that the district put in place the first time it zoned the school districts.

Board member Julie Sprague, who taught at Gulf Coast High School, said portables would be a “Band-Aid to the problem.”

But Board member Pat Carroll said she believed rezoning could negatively affect some students. She said bringing in portables would also be a visual reminder to the state that the amendment’s full implementation did not work for school districts.

“I would like to see the community rise up,” she said. “I think we need to continue this fight. We need to keep lobbying our Legislators.”

Carroll was supported by the mothers of two Gulf Coast High School students who didn’t want their children rezoned to Golden Gate High School.

The mothers, Cheryl Brock and Sheri Barnett, argued that their children were thriving at Gulf Coast High School. They said their students were involved in Advanced Placement classes and held positions in the band and in the Laureate program. They urged the board to consider rezoning Gulf Coast students to Golden Gate High School starting with the freshman class of 2010.

“Our kids are up in the air and disrupted until we find out if they will be rezoned or not,” said Brock. “My son is in the band and they are planning a trip to California. Do I tell him to still plan for it?”

Though she could not address band trips to California, Chief Instructional Officer Martha Hayes said the district will make every effort to ensure that students who attended Gulf Coast High School will have the same opportunities they had at Golden Gate High School with regard to things such as AP classes.

Concerned about class sizes that were reaching 40 students or more, Florida voters passed an amendment to the state’s constitution in 2002. It calls for the number of students per classroom to be limited in core classes such as English, science and math.

To meet the requirements, the district would have to hire 216 teachers at an estimated salary cost of $14.6 million. The district also may need 239 classrooms. There are enough classrooms available district-wide to meet the requirements but there are individual schools that don’t have enough classrooms while other schools have extra classrooms, Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute has said.

The board could have voted to add portables to campuses with a shortage of classrooms and leave classrooms empty in other schools. LaBute told board members the district would need about 58 portables at a cost of $3 million plus electrical costs.

A third option was for the district to do a combination of rezoning and portable classrooms.

Some of the schools that don’t have enough capacity for new teachers include Tommie Barfield, Veterans Memorial, Laurel Oak, Village Oaks, Lake Trafford and Osceola elementary schools and Gulf Coast High School.

Superintendent Dennis Thompson said Thursday that the district will hold town hall meetings at various sites in the month of January in order to get public input on proposed rezonings. He said the district hoped to bring rezoning plans back to the board to make a final decision by its February meeting.

Under the timeline for the class-size amendment’s implementation, schools must limit the number of students in classrooms by the 2010-11 school year.

Schools not meeting the requirement face fines. District officials have said the fines could be $2.7 million if Collier does not comply.

The state could still amend the class-size legislation. State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, filed a bill that would let voters decide if they want to repeal the 2002 amendment that added class-size rules to the state constitution.

The measure would have to get on the 2010 ballot and receive 60 percent of the vote to change the amendment.

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