School rezoning: Parents, students make one last plea; decision now in School Board’s hands

Rezoning meeting at Golden Gate High School

— The parents have spoken. The students have spoken. District administrators have spoken.

Now, it is the Collier County School Board’s turn.

The board will take up the proposed rezoning of its elementary and high schools Thursday. The first reading of the proposal comes after the district has held five mostly volatile meetings where parents, students and community members expressed their displeasure about the proposed changes to local schools.

“When my husband and I looked for a place to live, we sought out homes that would allow our children to attend Osceola Elementary School,” parent Annalise Smith said at the fifth meeting which took place at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center on Tuesday night.

Smith is upset the district is proposing to rezone Osceola students to Golden Gate Elementary School when the school allows students to enroll through choice and out-of-zone requests.

“It’s an outrage” Smith said. “It’s unfair that our students who are zoned for Osceola no longer have the right to attend Osceola because the students of children who work in (the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center) and choose to live elsewhere want their children to go here instead.”

The Collier County School Board voted to rezone its elementary and high schools to ensure those schools comply with the class size amendment.

The middle schools are not being rezoned because they have enough space to meet the class size requirements.

The class size amendment, which was passed by Florida voters in 2002, requires schools to hold classes to 18, 22 or 25 students, depending on the grade of the child, in core classes such as math and science by the start of the 2010 school year.

About 70 people, including school principals, School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo and Vice Chairwoman Julie Sprague, attended the meeting Tuesday.

Gulf Coast High School sophomore Michael Tamayo, 15, said it wasn’t fair to rezone the Logan Woods neighborhood. He said he thought about the preschoolers who will go to three different schools — Golden Gate Elementary, Oakridge Middle and Naples High — and the only friends they will keep will be their neighbors because none of their other classmates will follow them.

“I would like to ask the School Board members and the Superintendent how do you feel about the rezoning? Do you support this?” he asked. “If you don’t support this, you need to back us up. I know you know what we are going through. Back us up.”

Superintendent Dennis Thompson said rezoning Gulf Coast High School was inevitable, the constitutional amendment forced the district’s hand. But, he said, rezoning the elementary schools was not an exercise (the district) needed to go through.

Still, he said, the district has to comply with the amendment. The School Board voted 4 to 1 in December to rezone the schools, rather than spend $3 million to bring in portables.

The exception is in Immokalee, where the board voted unanimously to use a combination of rezoning and portables to meet the class size requirements at the elementary schools. Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute said that was done to accommodate travel times from the various Immokalee schools and to keep the community together.

The district plans to rezone about 1,800 students, or about 5 percent of the student population. The district will also need to hire 216 new teachers at a cost of $14.6 million in salary and benefits.

The Collier County School Board will make its final decision on the rezoning on Feb. 18.

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