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School board considering Rowlett zone elimination

BRADENTON — Too many parents want their children to attend the popular Rowlett Magnet Elementary, but there just isn’t enough space for them at the school.

So the Manatee County School District wants to eliminate the attendance zone there.

If approved by the school board May 10, students would not be assigned to the school just because they live nearby.

Instead, they would attend either Samoset or Orange Ridge elementaries, which are within walking distance.

The change would open up space at Rowlett for students from other parts of the county.

“We have kids who want to be there, but we don’t have room for them,” said Danny Lundeen, the district’s director of student demographics. “But we have room at Orange Ridge and Samoset so we’re gonna redistribute the students.”

One reason Rowlett is so in demand is because it’s a magnet school — a public school with specialized courses like math-sciences or performing arts programs created to attract students from across the county.

Of the 908 students at the school Tuesday, 645 are from outside its attendance zone and 263 live in the zone.

The attendance area for the school, 3500 Ninth St. E., Bradenton, was designed so that about 30 percent of the enrollment would come from the neighborhood. As of Tuesday it was at 29 percent.

If the board approves eliminating the attendance zone, students currently zoned to the school would be allowed to stay and finish there.

Empty seats would be created by the graduating fifth grade class and by residents who move out of the zone, said schools Superintendant Tim McGonegal.

Room could also open up if parents do not want their child to attend Rowlett.

The school, McGonegal said, has low enrollment in third through fifth grade and high enrollment in kindergarten through second grade. If that trend continues, he said, the student population will jump to more than 1,000.

“Rowlett has gotten so popular over the years, we’ve gotta stop saying yes to school choice or do something with their zone,” McGonegal said.

Parents who want to send their child to a different school in the district can request that their child attend another school without giving a specific reason for the move. During an open enrollment period each year, applications are collected and entered into a computer and a student is either denied or accepted to attend the school of choice.

Approval is subject to enrollment capacities and other demographic criteria, and students who don’t get their first school of choice can reapply the following year.

McGonegal said he does not think eliminating the zone will change the school’s demographics.

“It should still be really diverse,” McGonegal said.

As of Sept. 28, 51.3 percent of Rowlett students were on free and reduced lunch, and the student population was as follows: black, 15.5 percent; Hispanic, 28 percent; and white, 48 percent. The remaining 8.6 percent consisted of Native Americans and Asians and other ethnicities.

Of the district’s 11 magnet schools, Johnson Middle School and Wakeland and G.D. Rogers elementaries are the only three schools that don’t have an attendance zone, Lundeen said.

Rowlett and Lee Magnet Middle have reduced zones.

The other six have regular attendance zones.

Rowlett Principal Brian Flynn said he’s all for eliminating the school’s zone.

“We are turning away hundreds of people who want to get in and can’t,” Flynn said. “We’re trying to make it a little more open for everybody.”

Debra Woithe, Rowlett’s SAC chair, said parents and teachers have discussed eliminating the school’s zone and all appear to support the move.

“I think it would be great to be at a school where everyone chooses to be there,” Woithe said.

If the school board approves eliminating the school’s zone it will go into effect for the 2010-11 school year.

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled to take place during the May 10 school board meeting at the district’s administrative building on Manatee Avenue West.

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