School district flooded with transfer applications


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:28 a.m.
The stage is being set for a topsy-turvy start to the fall term in Alachua County schools.
Though a sweeping rezoning plan reassigned nearly a quarter of the school district's elementary-school population, parents still have more options than ever in terms of transferring their children to other schools.
More than 1,500 applications to transfer to a school other than the one assigned in the rezoning plan have been mailed to the district so far, and about two weeks remain before the application deadline.
"It's basically anyone that was rezoned wants to go back to their (original) school," said Martha Dean, zoning services specialist for Alachua County schools.
Parents such as Sean Rhoades, who lives in the Northridge subdivision near Santa Fe Community College off NW 83rd Street, have applied for a transfer.
Previously zoned to attend Terwilliger Elementary, off NW 62nd Street, Rhoades' subdivision was reassigned to Glen Springs Elementary, east of NW 34th Street.
Rhoades said Terwilliger's location is so convenient that asking his second-grade daughter to leave the school for Glen Springs would be too "disruptive."
"I love Terwilliger; the school is awesome," he said.
The Rhoades family applied for a school-choice exemption that, if approved, promises to give their child a seat at the school for the remaining three years of her time as a elementary school student.
School-choice seats will be offered for the first time this fall. Previously, parents could apply for transfers that lasted only one year, known as zoning exemptions.
Busing is not provided for parents who seek school-choice transfers. The new rezoning plan approved Dec. 2 reassigned 2,740 elementary students, 200 middle school students and 580 high school students, according to district data. The Alachua County school district redrew its school attendance zones primarily to relieve westside overcrowding.
After rezoning, it appears most of the overcrowded elementary schools in west Gainesville will continue to be crowded, even after taking into account the district's existing plans to borrow about $10 million to add new permanent classrooms to six westside schools.
"Based on the numbers coming in, we won't be able to accommodate all of the choice applications," Dean said.
The district has yet to say how many open seats each school will have for school choice, but preliminary projections show that a "weighted lottery" will be needed to determine which students gain entry to some schools.
For example, if a school is projected to have 50 open seats and gets 40 choice applications, all those students would receive seats.
But if the same school receives 100 applications, the district will hold the lottery. The preference would be given to children who would improve a school's socioeconomic diversity, students with siblings at the chosen school and students who previously attended the school.
The district also plans to save seats at schools for children of any school employee who does not reside in the school's zone.
Though rezoning will affect nearly 600 students at Alachua County's high schools, most may remain at their current school provided they submit a transfer application.
Dean said the district will guarantee seats for all of this year's 10th- and 11th-graders. But this year's ninth-graders who were rezoned out of either Gainesville High School or Buchholz High School are unlikely to get the chance to stay.
That's because both schools will be overcrowded this fall, she said.
"We will not move one student from one overcrowded school and further overcrowd another school," Dean said.
Public hearing At Tuesday's School Board meeting, the board will hold a public hearing for residents to address a possible addition to district zoning policy.
The amendment asks that the schools superintendent begin to devise enrollment caps at each of the district's schools, starting with the most crowded schools.
Once those caps are established, the district would have the right to reassign students away from crowded schools even if they live within the school's attendance zone.
"A school at some point can hold only so many students," said Jim Robinson, school district attorney and author of the zoning policy.
For example, enrollment caps could give the district the power to tell developers that just because they build new homes within crowded Chiles Elementary's zone, that does not mean the children who live in the new housing development will get to attend Chiles.
But Robinson added that the district did not expect to use enrollment caps this year, and the public would have the chance to address the board before any such caps are approved.
"This is not intended as an end-run around what the board just established" with rezoning, he said. "It would take quite a while to establish caps and to act on them (would be) another step."
Douane D. James can be reached at (352) 374-5087 or jamesd@gvillesun.com.

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