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District to look at School Choice program

By Staff | Jun 21, 2011

The Lee County School Board will likely hold a future workshop to focus specifically on proposed changes to the district’s school choice program

An exact date for that workshop was not determined Tuesday.

As outlined by district staff, potential modifications to the program include options as extreme as completely reversing the option to choose your child’s school, a partial reversal that would focus only on elementary schools, or a hybridized version that includes boundaries and no transportation.
A mere discussion point during the school board’s briefing meeting on Tuesday, the three board members in attendance favored further discussion, if not some partiality to the ideas already brought forward by staff.

Thomas Scott said he’d like to focus specifically on the elementary schools, having students attend schools that are in their neighborhoods. He said he’d also like to see transportation for high school students become sole responsibility of their parents, should the program be tweaked, once they pass a certain distance from their homes.

“The problem is in elementary schools, not the middle or the high schools, other than how far we would be willing to transport them,” said Scott.

The Lee County School District adopted the school choice program in 1995, according to district documentation.

Adjustments to choice zones and subzones have been made over the years and adjustments were made to accommodate the growing number of students in the district.

Outgoing interim Superintendent Larry Tihen said it would likely benefit the board to look at the proposal in “small chunks,” by starting with a discussion about elementary schools.

Board member Don Armstrong said he would prefer the program be modified sooner than later.

“If we could have started last week it would have been even better,” Armstrong said of the potential workshop.

Board member Mary Fischer said there were likely parents who would benefit from keeping their children in schools closer to their workplace instead of their homes.

She said, too, she’d like to see the idea of partnering with LeeTran to help solve some of their transportation problems for students in the school choice program, an idea that’s in use in areas with more population.

She said the matter is complicated, and a workshop would likely be beneficial.

“There are so many details and variables to be covered,” she said.

In other news, the Lee County School Board will have its preliminary budget hearing on July 26, and their final budget hearing on Sept. 13 of this year.

There were $45 million in legislative losses to the general fund, as identified by district staff, a short fall that will be made up with a combination of reserves, reductions in retirement benefits, department cut backs and reductions in school flex dollars.