Parents discontent over rezoning
Collier County parents gather with members of ...
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The Collier County School District scheduled five meetings to discuss rezoning. Each meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the following locations:
■ A meeting for parents attending elementary schools in Greater Naples is on Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the School Board meeting room of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail.
■ A meeting for parents of students attending Immokalee elementary schools is Tuesday, Jan. 12, in the Eden Park Elementary School cafeteria, 3650 Westclox St.
■ A meeting for parents of students being rezoned to Lely or Naples High Schools is Thursday, Jan. 7, in the Lely High School auditorium, 1 Lely High School Blvd.
■ A meeting for parents of students being rezoned to Golden Gate High School is Wednesday, Jan. 13, in the Golden Gate High School auditorium, 2925 Titan Lane.
Parents who are not able to attend the meetings, can submit comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (239) 377-0180. Community input will be shared with School Board members as at their Jan. 21 and Feb. 18 meetings, which will be held at 3 p.m. at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administrative Center.
COLLIER COUNTY — The cold air outside was nothing compared to the chill Collier County School District administrators felt as they faced nearly 100 angry parents and students Wednesday night.
The district held its first meeting for parents whose children will be rezoned next school year. The meeting, which was held at Golden Gate High School, was primarily for elementary school families who will be rezoned.
Collier plans to rezone 1,039 students from 10 elementary schools in order to comply with the class size amendment.
“This is not something we want to do either, but we have to follow the law,” said Superintendent Dennis Thompson. “We have wrestled with this for months. ... I am empathetic with (your situation). It is not fun, especially for kids, to move schools. ... But we have to deal with this problem.”
Florida voters passed the class size amendment in 2002. The amendment, which was opposed by many school districts and then Governor Jeb Bush, requires Florida schools to have no more than 18, 22 or 25 students (depending on grade level) in core classes such as math or English. The maximum number of students in each class is determined by the age of the children, with class sizes for older students increasing.
The problem is, the state has inadequately funded the amendment.
But that didn’t matter to parents, who argued that they were happy at their current schools and didn’t want to move.
Jennifer Mazzotta’s son has attended the Osceola Elementary School for three years. Mazzotta said her son would not even allow her to mention the possibility of attending Golden Gate Elementary School next year.
Mazzotta said she was also worried her property values would be affected as a result of the rezoning and said her child attends an A school now and should not be forced to attend a C school.
“Schools that (are located in more affluent areas) get better opportunities,” she said. “It is not fair to do to my son.”
Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning, whose son attends Osceola and would be rezoned to Golden Gate Elementary School, said the rezoning presents a social challenge for the children in his neighborhood, who would attend elementary school at Golden Gate, middle school at Oakridge and high school at Naples High School. He said he would much rather see his son educated out of a portable than moved.
“The school my son is being rezoned to has a less than great average,” Henning said. “... I want my son to have the opportunities he has now.”
Henning said he also believed the district would have to rezone students back once the county starts growing again.
Several parents asked if the district could pay a fine or not comply with the amendment to avoid rezoning. Thompson told the parents that, by law, the district had to comply with the state constitution.
“I don’t think that is the example we want to set for children,” Thompson said. “We don’t want to violate the law.”
The Legislature could elect to put the measure on the ballot. If the Legislature agrees to put the amendment on the ballot for voter approval, it would have to be approved by more than 60 percent of voters to be overturned. While it has been a School Board Legislative priority for the past three sessions, all proposed bills failed in the Legislature and did not reach voters. The Legislature is schedule to meet again March 1. There is no guarantee that the amendment would go back on the ballot but if it did, the vote would be in November.
Thompson said polling has indicated 46 percent of Florida voters would vote to overturn the amendment or change it.
Also, he said, the amendment requires full implementation at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, which is in August, and the district cannot wait.
“I know our answers are not satisfactory to you,” he said. “We have to deal with the problem — that is not negotiable.”
Other parents wanted to know if the district would reverse a decision on retaining its choice and out-of-zone policy, which allows students not zoned for a school to attend it. Doing away with the policy might keep other students from being rezoned.
That would be up to the Collier County School Board, district officials said. In December, the board voted unanimously to keep the choice and out-of-zone program in place. Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo, who was at the meeting Wednesday, said the board came to its decision based on the data received, which indicated there were not enough students at schools on choice or out-of-zone to avoid rezoning.
The district plans to send a first reading of the rezoning plan to the Collier County School Board on Jan. 21. The board will make a decision on the rezoning proposal at its Feb. 18 meeting.