NAPLES — Anger over a plan to rezone Collier County schools came to a head Wednesday as hundreds of parents and students spoke out at a meeting in the Golden Gate High School auditorium.
It was the fourth of five informational meetings the Collier County School District is holding after voting to rezone elementary and high schools to meet the class size amendment.
Collier County School Board Vice Chairwoman Julie Sprague stood at the back of the auditorium listening to parents and students argue against the proposal.
“I am still listening. I get e-mails every day from people with new suggestions. And I haven’t spoken with the superintendent yet,” she said. “But I am pleased so many people have come out to speak about this issue.”
Sprague and other district administrators got more than an earful when parents and students packed the auditorium, most to express displeasure with the plan to rezone them to Golden Gate High School to meet the requirements of the class size amendment.
The amendment, which was passed by Florida voters in 2002, requires schools to limit the number of students in core classes such as English and math to 18, 22 or 25 students, depending on grade, by the start of the 2010 school year.
The district is planning to rezone 141 students from Palmetto Ridge High School and a little more than 300 students from Gulf Coast High School to Golden Gate High next year to alleviate overcrowding at the two high schools.
Jennifer Hecker begged district administrators not to rezone her neighborhood.
“Gulf Coast and Golden Gate are not equivalent quality schools. You are depriving our children of an equivalent education,” she said. “And you are decreasing our home values in an already depressed market. You do have options. Building additions or adding portables, though expensive, are the equitable solutions. Our children’s welfare and our property rights should not be sacrificed as a cost cutting measure.”
The School Board voted to rezone students to different schools rather than spend $3 million on portables to supply the needed classrooms.
Golden Gate High senior Danny Joseph, 17, said he was offended that parents asked whether their child would have honors or Advanced Placement classes at Golden Gate.
“If you buy into the stereotypes, your kids will buy into them,” he said. “I urge you to take a tour of Golden Gate High School. I am sure you will change your mind.”
But Gulf Coast students said they loved their school and they didn’t want to move.
“We have the biggest band in Collier County — over 300 kids — and I am part of it,” said Gulf Coast sophomore Summer Forbis. “I am in the drum line. I am involved in volleyball, basketball and track and field. ... My sister was part of the first Gulf Coast graduating class in 1999. My brother is a senior this year. The band is going to California next year. For the kids being rezoned, it is not fair at all that we won’t be able to go. Some people have already started paying for it. It is not right to rezone us.”
Gulf Coast High parent Jeff Raimer said to parents and students who attend the North Naples high school, the issue is not a line on a map.
“Gulf Coast ... represents the best in public education,” Raimer said. “Your first concern should be first, do no harm. Closer schools to your homes equals less driving, equals safer driving. I think this whole process is wrong.”
Many parents said they did not want their children rezoned from Gulf Coast, which is an A school, to Golden Gate, which is a C school.
Those comments struck a chord with Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute.
“The worst thing this state has done is give letter grades to schools,” she said, adding schools are graded by a percentage of students in certain subgroups making gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. “If you are a C school or a D school or an F school, it doesn’t mean you offer a poor education. It just means you have more students not achieving as high on achievement tests as other schools.”
In the end, most people left the auditorium with the attitude they had when they came in. But Golden Gate High School senior Alex Morris hoped they would change their minds about the rezoning.
“This rezoning is going to mean your students are going to have more one-on-one time with their teachers,” said Alex, who has a 4.0 grade point average. “We are the most diverse school in Collier County. There are no gangs, there is no violence. What are you afraid of?”
The final meeting for parents and students to express opinions about the proposed rezoning maps is 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. administrative center, 5775 Osceola Trail.
The rezoning proposal goes to the school board for its first reading Jan. 21.