LARGO — After years of debate, Pinellas County School Board members on Tuesday voted to extend the feeder pattern from Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary in St. Petersburg to Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle for one more year.
The decision allows Jamerson’s fifth-graders this year to graduate and get a guaranteed seat at the coveted A-rated middle school in the next school year. After that, however, the feeder pattern will be eliminated for younger Jamerson students. Those students will get priority seating at nearby Bay Point Middle, a C school, and Azalea Middle, an F school.
Originally, the School Board was expected to vote on doing away with the feeder pattern after this school year; but School Board member Terry Krassner presented the compromise that was ultimately approved.
“I can’t not listen to what our families are saying,” Krassner said. “I’m not saying one school is better than the other, and I don’t see this as giving priority to one group and not the other. ... I’m saying give parents time to know that after next year they’re on their own and bring closure to this in a positive way instead of cutting them off at the knees.”
Krassner originally proposed extending the pattern for another two years, allowing this year’s fourth- and fifth-graders to move on to Thurgood Marshall without going through the application process, but that idea was struck down. Board members argued that the feeder pattern wasn’t fair to other students, but hundreds of parents spoke out at School Board meetings and through emails, a petition with more than 400 signatures and phone calls, saying had they known their students wouldn’t be automatically enrolled at Thurgood Marshall they could have enrolled them elsewhere.
Jamerson is the district’s only nonfundamental school where students can automatically get a seat at a fundamental school without applying and being placed on a waiting list.
Because of the preferential feeder pattern from Jamerson Elementary, Thurgood Marshall has fewer seats available for students who don’t receive priority status because of parents who work at the school, siblings who are enrolled or their homes’ proximity to the school, compared to other fundamental middle schools in Pinellas.
The Jamerson feeder plan is unfair to other parents trying to get their children into Thurgood Marshall, School Board member Rene Flowers said. The school has a waiting list of 260 families.
“What about other parents who are on a waiting list and have been on a waiting list and still can’t get in?” she said. “I think it’s concerning that parents think our other schools aren’t qualified to give their students a quality education.”
The School Board began discussing the problem of allowing a nonfundamental school to feed into a fundamental school in 2010, so Krassner argued that students who were in kindergarten when parents first learned the pattern may change should still get to go to the school they were originally promised.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the School Board also:
• Voted to approve salary agreements with unions for teachers, support staff, police and public service workers. Teachers will get an average 5.6 percent raise, and other employees will get an average 5 percent raise.
• Voted to fire school bus driver Belinda Ivey for potentially hitting a student with her bus and failing to cooperate in an investigation of the incident. Ivey also drove her bus in February while her medical authorization was on hold, changed her school bus route without being granted the authority to do so and failed to stop at a bus stop, according to a school district investigation.