Lee County Schools
Board member: District wants to "kill" attempts to end school choice
Current, former board members call district's presentation "biased"
Current, former school board members feel district trying to "kill" attempts to end school choice. Video by fox4now.comvideo
FORT MYERS - A Lee County School board member says the district is trying to "kill" attempts at overturning school choice.
"I don't think I know they're trying to kill it," said school board member Don Armstrong.
Three weeks ago the district laid out the pros and cons of keeping school choice, the lottery system giving students their choice of any county school.
"I thought it was very lopsided. I was very disappointed," said Armstrong. "I think they have a biased opinion and really I don't want to hear some body's opinion. I want to hear facts and data."
Supporters say choice has given their kids more opportunities. Critics say it's created two hour bus rides and has been a strain on the system.
"I thought it was a three hour lecture to the school board members," said former board member Bob Chilmonik, "as to why they could not move to neighborhood schools."
Chilmonik was at last month's workshop and walked out in protest.
"I felt that overall the presentation was biased towards keeping the choice program as is," said Chilmonik, "with very few revisions."
A district spokesperson declined to comment on those allegations but says new Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke would be happy to discuss any concerns board members have in private.
The district also adding that last month's workshop was just the "kick off" to future discussions, which will included "vetted, detailed data," the district said.
Chilmonik, who fought to end school choice, says he's not convinced things will change anytime soon.
"I think at this point that it's dead," said Chilmonik. "I think they'll come back with some revisions to the current program. But we've been tinkering with the program since I was a school board member for eight years with no success."
Armstrong says he wants to change that. He thinks a hybrid plan - keeping school choice for high schoolers and returning to neighborhood schools for elementary and middle school students - could save the district upwards of $15 million.
"As far as I'm concerned," said Armstrong, "it's still an option and will remain an option as long as I'm on the board."
"What will it take for that to happen?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"Honestly," said Armstrong, "I believe it won't change until the next election."
The issue is likely to become a big election-year issue next year with board members Jeanne Dozier and Jane Kuckel both running for re-election.
The district is looking to hire an outside company to independently poll Lee County residents to find out what the public thinks about school choice.
The board will hold their second school choice workshop on Tues. Oct. 4.
MATT GRANT, REPORTER