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European edition, Sunday, August 26, 2007

STUTTGART, Germany — A lot of promises were made in Stuttgart last week.

School bus rides would be timed to make sure they didn’t take too long. Class sizes would be watched to avoid overcrowding. Housing officials would advise incoming parents on which schools had space and which didn’t.

“I’m not going to turn away from this issue once the buses start running,” said garrison commander Col. Richard M. Pastore.

“That’s a promise — I’ll be here on a quarterly basis,” added school superintendent Mike Thompson.

Monday marks the second straight year that Stuttgart’s schools have opened under controversy. Last year it was a geographically split middle school and the resulting overcrowding; this year, it’s a rezoning plan that was shouted down by angry parents at an Aug. 15 town hall meeting.

After a second town hall meeting Monday to explain a new plan, wary parents had provided school and garrison officials a list of potential problems to keep an eye on.

Thompson, the Bavaria district superintendent, said via e-mail that complaints and suggestions would be heard if they are made to committees at the schools.

Larry Reilly, an Army Garrison Stuttgart spokesman, said parents could volunteer for those committees — School Advisory Committee, Parent Teacher Student Association and others — at upcoming open houses.

“We’re letting [the schools] take the lead on this,” Reilly said. “But we’re there to help them, especially as the schools have a large impact on our garrison.

“We highly encourage parents to use that.”

Stuttgart’s schools were scrambled last year when seventh- and eighth-grade students were removed from the centrally located but crowded Patch High School. Some were sent north to attend the reconfigured Robinson Elementary-Middle School; others were sent south to the newly formed Boeblingen Elementary-Middle School.

At the same time, Stuttgart’s military population was swelling in the Böblingen area, resulting in an overcrowded school there with some students sitting on floors and counters.

Planning for this school year and next has been complicated by the birth of the U.S. Africa Command, which has been based at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart. Many of the 800 people who will join the command over the next year will be bringing school-aged children with them.

Principal Susan Page said enrollment at the high school during that time is expected to increase from 425 to around 530.

“The number of kids of all ages is going to increase,” Maj. Gen. William Catto, chief of staff of the U.S. European Command, told parents at the Aug. 15 meeting.

Many parents were angered at that meeting when presented with a plan that would have required kindergartners and other children to ride a bus for up to 90 minutes each way to school at Robinson Barracks.

Most were pleased with a revised plan that shortened the commute for the youngest kids.

Jeanne Roth, a mother of four, noted the calmer mood at the second meeting.

“People, I think, were resigned to the fact that this was how it was going to be,” she said.

Under the old plan, Shemica Downing would have had to send her 8-year-old son, Keshawn, from their home in Grafenau all the way to Robinson; now he will attend the much-closer Patch Elementary School.

“It was hard — last year we came from England to here, and [Keshawn] had to get adjusted to a new school,” Downing said. “This will be his third school in three years.

“We’re relieved because he is still within 20 minutes of us in case of an emergency. His dad works at Panzer, and that was our biggest concern.”

Promise list

n Will try not to change school zones again for the (2008-2009) school year.n Will make adjustments when possible to shorten unduly long bus rides.n Will build three additions — to Boeblingen Elementary, Boeblingen Middle and Patch Elementary schools — in time for next school year.n No bus routes will be 1½ hours. The goal for bus routes is 60-65 minutes maximum.n Enough buses will run between installations to get students to schools and to after-school services and extracurricular activities.n Adult bus monitors will ride on all the longer routes.n Class sizes are under control.n Records automatically are transferred for students who had to change schools due to change in zoning plans.n The housing department will tell incoming families which school zones have no more capacity.

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