School district leaders propose busing changes

nalund@bradenton.comSeptember 28, 2010 

BRADENTON — Students from low-income areas of Bradenton might stop taking long bus rides soon to rural east Manatee schools for the sake of diversity.

That’s because Manatee County School District leaders are proposing that some Braden River, McNeal and Tara elementary students be reassigned to Daughtrey, Oneco or Samoset elementaries. The move would put those students in their neighborhood schools. If approved by the board in December, busing would be eliminated for about 145 suburban students transported to the three east Manatee schools.

During Monday night’s board meeting, school board Chair Jane Pfeilsticker asked schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal if the NAACP will be involved in discussions over the proposed policy. He said yes.

School board member Bob Gause said he also would like to get the Latin Chamber of Commerce involved.

Board member Harry Kinnan said he wants to make sure a balance remains in all six schools.

“I think we’re all sensitive that we need to keep the diversity that we and the people before us have worked hard to keep in the schools,” Kinnan said.

Of the 145 students, 92 are bused to Tara, 40 are transported to Braden River and 13 are transported to McNeal, said Danny Lundeen, the district’s supervisor of student demographics and projections.

“We were getting more and more requests from people in the pockets of those areas to go to schools closer to where they live,” Lundeen said. “Parents say they can’t go pick up their kids when they’re sick, and the kids can’t participate in the after-school program because they have no transportation to get home.”

Some parents have also argued they can’t be a part of school organizations, including school advisory councils.

Under the proposed policy, students moving to fifth grade next year would be permitted to stay at their existing school.

McNeal Principal Norma Scott welcomed the change for the benefit of those students.

“Our Oneco pocket travels two hours each way every day to and from school,” she wrote in an e-mail to district leaders.

Tara Elementary Principal Linda Fouse said she doesn’t want to lose students, but said she also understands the dilemma. Most of those students bused in live near Daughtrey Elementary — more than eight miles away.

“You always want to make sure your school is balanced, but I know what the parents are saying, the difficulty of getting here, I see it all the time,” she said. “There are huge issues because of distance and because we are located off State Road 70. They can’t walk and cross that huge road.”

When the three east Manatee schools were being built, students from schools in lower income areas were zoned to them.

“We looked to see the makeup of the schools and were very careful trying to create a balance of diversity,” Lundeen said.

District leaders looked at four factors in doing so: students on free and reduced lunch, those who spoke limited English, and special needs and gifted students. All those factors create a race neutral policy, which is how the district diversifies its schools.

Last year, the district stopped busing students from the central Bradenton corridor around McKechnie Field after G.D. Rogers Elementary opened. A majority of the students who attend the magnet school are on free and reduced lunches.

“We allowed anybody the choice to attend Rogers to try and draw people in from all over the district because it’s a green school,” Lundeen said. The district, Lundeen said, has a voluntary desegregation agreement with the U.S. Office For Civil Rights. If the policy is approved, Lundeen said he does not suspect it will have an effect on Daughtrey, Oneco or Samoset,

But it could affect the other three, Lundeen said. So district leaders are forming realignment committees at all six elementaries to make sure they remain somewhat diversified. Each committee consist of each school’s principal, teachers, parents and a district administrator.

The board Monday night scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Dec. 13.

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