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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | School board reconsiders diversity busing

MANATEE -- Addressing the concerns of parents who want their children to go to schools closer to home, the Manatee County School Board is considering updating its program of busing for diversity.

At a public workshop scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Monday at the school administration building, 215 Manatee Ave. W., the school board will consider three plans developed by three committees that may curtail busing.

The committee members’ task was to develop options for 145 students who are primarily from lower socio-economic families and are bused to Braden River, Tara and McNeal elementaries.

The students live in pockets around the Daughtrey and Oneco elementary school zones.

“It all began with parents of the 145 students having some concerns about how far their children had to go to school and the fear of them getting sick there,” said Danny Lundeen, supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignments.

There is also concern among parents about their children not being able to participate in extra-curricular activities due to the long bus ride.

Lundeen said he has received many phone calls from parents requesting him to let them bring their kids home.

“It has been very hard for me to keep denying them,” Lundeen said. “We finally decided we needed to hit a balance in this.”

Of the 145 students, 92 attend Tara Elementary on Linger Lodge Road; 40 attend Braden River Elementary off State Road 70; and 13 attend McNeal Elementary, off Lorraine Road.

The area the children live in is bordered by 57th Avenue East on the north, 12th Street East and 15th Street East on the east and 61st Avenue East and 63rd Avenue East on the south, Lundeen said.

The committees, which were comprised of parents, school administrators, teachers and others, began their explorations Oct. 7.

A final decision on the 145, which could be a vote for no change at all, is set for Dec. 13.

Many weigh in on issue

The commitment to busing for diversity took hold in 2000 when the school district adopted a voluntary desegregation program after a civil right complaint was filed against the district with the federal government, Lundeen said.

“As part of our agreement, we said we would come forward and make sure we were making our schools diverse, recruiting diverse teachers and that all our schools had the resources they needed,” Lundeen said. “I feel we have made every effort to make that work.”

No parents seem to be complaining about the steps the district has taken to integrate schools. Now, it seems, many parents are weary of it.

The school district reached out to both Peggy Delegato, the education committee chairwoman for the Manatee County Branch NAACP, and the Latin Chamber of Commerce for feedback on the work of the committees.

Delegato attended some of the committee meetings.

She said the issue leaves her torn.

“My fear is that we may be taking a step back in time when schools were all white or all black and people didn’t know each other and we’re afraid of each other,” Delegato said. “I agree with the school district that a child shouldn’t be on a bus for over an hour and that they are denied school functions and activities because of busing. But transferring students from high performing schools to Title 1 schools may be doing damage.

“Somewhere, there has to be a place where whites and blacks can get to know each other, but maybe it doesn’t lie in school,” Delegato said.

Leticia Saucedo has four children attending Daughtrey Elementary, one of six Manatee County schools that are classified as needing improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Saucedo investigated the possibility of moving her youngsters to Tara Elementary, a high performing school.

“I felt my kids would have more opportunities at Tara,” Saucedo said.

But in the end, Saucedo didn’t make the move because she couldn’t stomach her kids riding an hour a day to get from their home on 59th Avenue East to East Manatee.

“It’s so far,” said Saucedo, who considered what would happen if they got sick at school.

“I can walk to Daughtrey.”

Lundeen said he is torn also.

“I see it both ways,” Lundeen said. “I have to listen to parents requesting transfers closer to home and for a long time, all we could do is deny them. We said we are obligated to diversity. But it’s very hard to deny a parent when they are saying they want their children to participate in activities at their community schools.”

One thing that encourages Lundeen is that the 145 students will have lots of choices no matter what.

“If a student is assigned to a federal Title 1 school that has not made yearly adequate progress for three years, the school has to offer transportation to two higher rated schools,” Lundeen said.

Manatee County has six such elementaries -- Ballard, Daughtrey, Manatee, Oneco, Orange Ridge-Bullock, Samoset and Tillman, Lundeen said.

The 3 plans outlined

Committee A’s proposal is to leave the pocket areas intact but allow the 145 students to easily go to other schools if they wish.

That would be a change because in the past, the 145 would not have been able to get school choice as easily due to the rigid diversity policy, Lundeen said.

If Committee A’s plan is adopted, it could mean a relaxing of the diversity policy.

“In the past, we likely would have denied those students for school choice,” Lundeen said.

“These kids will still have a myriad of options, including staying where they are,” he said.

Committee B’s recommendation is to eliminate the McNeal pocket of 13 and leave the others intact.

Committee C’s recommendation is to split the pocket right down the middle at 11th Street East, which would send 65 kids to Oneco and 80 children to Daughtrey, Lundeen said.

Although Lundeen is careful not to take a stand on any of the three, he thinks if the district wanted to take a step toward community schools, Plan C would be it.

“If we are going to do it, then that might be the way to do it,” he said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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