County school board alters school choice program
Although it has been criticized for being a costly program, the school district’s choice program was modified Tuesday night by the Lee County School Board who voted 5-0 to update the 2009 to 2010 Plan for Student Assignment.
The district’s transportation department currently has a budget of approximately $50 million. A major issue during the last school board election in November was whether to transition the county from school choice back to neighborhood schools because of the high price of gas. Yet the price of gas has fallen dramatically.
Sue Jacobse, a parent and ardent supporter of the school district, said she agreed with the district’s decision not to eliminate school choice.
“Even though it seems school choice is costly, we couldn’t measure the cost if we took that away,” she said. “Parents want the opportunity to send their kids to different kinds of schools.”
Some of the updates to the plan include adding language to clarify the difference between sibling guarantee and sibling preference, an elimination of subzone preferences and eligibility pools being liminated to five days.
The district also eliminated some schools from the program because of lower student enrollment. Two Fort Myers schools, Michigan International Academy and Lee Middle School, will not be included on the zone listings. On the other hand, a new K-8 school will be opened and named at a future board meeting.
Students utilize the school choice program to attend various academies or magnet schools throughout Lee County. Ida S. Baker is the most sought after high school in the county and offers five academies — public service, medical academy, engineering, business and construction.
While the board has not significantly reduced the program, in January members will have to begin dealing once again with the affect of low enrollment on the 2008 to 2009 budget.
“We have a lot of hard work to do around the budget and reductions,” said Superintendent James Browder. “I’ll be looking forward to working with each of you to resolve the issues.”
Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he is concerned about the district having to potentially cut art, music or sport programs. He is asking local parents to sign petitions asking for a flexibility referendum to be placed on next year’s ballot.
“We need to do something now. We can’t wait any longer,” he said. “We have used our reserves and I don’t know where we will go next.”