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More than 6,000 applications in for school choice picks

By Staff | Feb 4, 2009

The Lee County School District has released results from the first batch of school choice selections for the year. Overall, the district’s Student Assignment Office processed 6,130 assignment applications, of which 2,905 were submitted online.
Like other agencies, the district is moving away from paperwork and embracing electronic forms as part of the digital age. The online option allows parents to submit an application instantly and avoid long lines.
In the first week of Batch 1, the district received 1,773 applications from the East Zone, 2,038 from the South Zone and 2,319 from the West Zone.
Leila Muvdi, director of Student Assignment Office, said the online option continues to be popular with local families because they can submit their applications at anytime of the day. Between the first day of Batch 1 last year and now, applications have increased by 400.
On the other hand, online applications can only be submitted for those children who are already enrolled in the school district.
“They can’t do it online unless they are already a student,” said Muvdi. “For a brand new person, we have to input everything to create that file.”
Children going into kindergarten or new students from a neighboring district have to visit the office to drop off documentation — proof of vaccinations, Social Security numbers, birth certificates and more. Once the student is in the system, his or her family can submit a student assignment application online.
The Batch 1 application process runs from Jan. 26 to March 13 and assigns thousands of students to their respective schools. In 2008 there were a total of 14,000 applications processed, said Muvdi.
Even though many of the applications can be submitted online, many parents still believe that the system is first-come, first-serve and feel they must go in person during the first week of Batch 1.
“There were long lines on the first day. A lot of people waited three or four hours, but we told them they didn’t have to,” said Muvdi.
The district’s student assignment program lets students choose what school they wish to attend, and they have the opportunity to attend magnet schools, for example, or International Baccalaureate programs.
When submitting an application, students choose a school in their zone and sub-zone and their names are placed in a lottery system that randomly assigns them to a school.
During the 2008 to 2009 school year, approximately 92 percent of families were assigned their first school of choice. Of those not placed in a first choice, some 300 families were given the option of moving after 20 days. According to the district, only 10 percent agreed.
Furthermore, the district pointed out that 72 percent of families did not choose a school near their home.
The choice program has been criticized over the last year because some parents see the cross-county busing as excessive in a tight budgetary year, especially with the district’s transportation budget totaling $50 million.
Some parents want to see the choice system disassembled and replaced with “neighborhood schools,” where a student attends the school near his or her house.
Supporters contend that a lack of sidewalks and traditional neighborhoods would make neighborhood schools impossible, and the price of courtesy busing would cost millions.