Palm Beach County school choice lottery promises to speed up this coming year with new online program, district says.

By Jason Schultz – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

The Palm Beach County School District Thursday unveiled a major high-tech change that will speed up its magnet school lottery process next year.

A new $80,000 computer system will allow the roughly 22,000 applications from students seeking seats in a choice program each year to be processed faster online, district Director of Choice and Career Options Pete Licata said, while adding that it would save the district $100,000 annually in data-entry labor costs.

palm-beach-speeds-up-2“We’re plus ($20,000) this year, but we’re plus ($100,000) the next year and the year after,” Licata told about 50 principals, district officials, community activists and business leaders at the district’s annual choice summit Thursday. “It adds up for us quick, and that is money we can instead be investing in more programs.”

Licata said the system, sold by Louisiana-based Smart Choice Technologies, will replace the existing mix of hard copy and online applications the district has used since the 1990s.

Tara Kobel, a choice reassignment specialist, told summit-goers that although most of last year’s applications were online, a district employee had to to re-enter all of the information into the computer program for the annual lottery drawing to award seats. The new system will not automatically enter that data, it will automatically check students’ information for violations of district rules that would keep them from entering a specific choice program, Licata said.

palm-beach-county-speedsA perennial complaint from parents has been that the December deadline for students to apply for seats is too early. The district needed the earlier deadline because the amount of data-entry work before the annual March lottery drawing.

But this year, Licata said online applications will not require that lead time so the deadline will likely be extended until February. Applications for two of the most popular programs, Bak Middle School of the Arts and the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, will still have early deadlines because the those schools require auditions.

Kobel said for those who do not have regular computer access, the district is also creating a mobile app that will allow choice applications from a smartphone or tablet.

Thursday afternoon’s gathering of principals and community leaders also discussed whether to change a controversial part of the selection process — the rule that allows principals to pick 20 percent of seats from the pool of applicants, instead of letting them take their chances in the random lottery drawing.

Licata said the principal choices started out as a way to boost academic achievement in programs and increase the diversity at schools. But as demand for choice seats has far exceeded supply in recent years, parent complaints about fairness have grown.

Principals, not surprisingly, want to keep that option. And Rose Anne Brown, a member of the Riviera Beach Education Advisory Council, even suggested expanding it.

Normally, the 20 percent of applicants picked are pulled out before the lottery drawing is done for remaining seats. Brown suggested holding the lottery drawing first, and if any of the students on the principal list happen to get a lottery seat, then the principal gets to pick another student.

Licata said he would suggest that idea to district officials for next year.

Click here to see the Palm Beach Post’s article.

View our case study here.

Experience the ease of application management, the power and fairness of the lottery, and the efficiency of a real-time wait list.  The Smart Choice System is flexible, extensible and powerful. It’s the Smart Choice for any charter school!

Seeing is believing! Request a demo today and experience the power and simplicity of the Smart Choice™ platform.

Still not sure? Contact us at 337-269-0299 or [email protected] for more information!