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East County Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019 7 months ago

Lakewood Ranch High School expansion delayed

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Rezone might have left too many students on campus to move portables.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

After being approved in 2017, a new wing at Lakewood Ranch High School to combat overcrowding has been delayed, at least temporarily.

The School District of Manatee County had planned to start construction on a new classroom addition during the 2020-2021 school year, but those plans have been delayed until the 2021-2022 school year by changes the Manatee County School Board made last April to proposed attendance zones.

Some East County communities north of State Road 64 but south of the Manatee River originally had been zoned to attend the new North River High School in Parrish. After complaints by parents who wanted their children to remain in the Lakewood Ranch High system, board members voted to carve out the GreyHawk Landing, Mill Creek and Country Creek communities from North River’s zone and to keep those neighborhoods zoned for Lakewood Ranch High.

The school board originally had planned to take 355 students out of Lakewood Ranch High’s zone and put them into North

River’s zone. The rezone meant 162 of them would stay at Lakewood Ranch High.

That created problems because it meant Lakewood Ranch High’s portables still would be in use and couldn’t be moved away so the new wing could be constructed.

​Lakewood Ranch’s enrollment after the last school year was 2,396 compared to its capacity of 1,799. Lakewood Ranch High currently has 19 portables in its southwest corner and another four used for classrooms in the northwest corner.

District officials are confident they will find a way to expand Lakewood Ranch High.

“We’ve delayed the wing one year,” said Doug Wagner, the district’s interim superintendent of business services and operations, who said everything will proceed if the enrollment landscape doesn’t have any drastic changes.

School board member Scott Hopes said any problems caused by the current location of the portables can be overcome.

“In the world of construction and innovation, the mere fact of where the portables are located is not going to deter us from expanding Lakewood Ranch High School, if that’s what we need to do,” Hopes said.

English teacher Mary Ellen Eskett instructs in a portable at Lakewood Ranch High School.

Officials said the delay will give the district more time to evaluate how school choice will affect enrollment at the new high school, which will have an advanced automotive program and health profession classes that may attract students. The district believes those programs will attract students from Lakewood Ranch and others throughout the county.

School Choice allows parents to send their child to the school of their choice, rather than the school to which their child is zoned. Applications for School Choice are considered based on school capacity, the student’s proximity to the choice school, and on other race-neutral factors.

“It’s going to be two years before we fully have attendance at the new high school,” Hopes said. “With that, there may be future redistricting of all schools. I have been an advocate of changing the attendance zone not just of three schools (Palmetto, Braden River and Lakewood Ranch highs), but of all our schools. We are going to continue to create schools of choice.”

School board members Charlie Kennedy, Dave Miner and Gina Messenger said they believe the wing is needed and believe the district will find a way to construct the addition.

Miner said it is not a matter of whether the wing will be built, but how big.

“To some extent, we’re going to have a wing there,” Miner said. “How many portables are going to be removed? We won’t know until about April.”

Kennedy said when he talks with educators at Lakewood Ranch High School, they are not worried Lakewood Ranch will still have portables next year. They tell him reducing the student population by nearly 200 students will make them feel like they have “elbow room.”

“The mood on campus for those who work there is one of relief,” Kennedy said. “For the people who work there, this is still a good development (the opening of North River High). The overcrowding situation is not good, but there is some relief on the way.”

Hopes said he believes other changes in the educational landscape could impact Lakewood Ranch’s future, in terms of enrollment and facility needs, over the next two to three years. One of those changes could be a high-school level charter school in the greater Lakewood Ranch area. He said said he has been contacted by two charter schools about starting programs in the Lakewood Ranch area with one proposing a kindergarten-through-12th-grade campus between Parrish and Lakewood Ranch, and another for a high school program in Lakewood Ranch proper.

Charter schools are public schools that operate under a performance contract, or a “charter” which frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools.

“If something like that occurs, we may not need to expand Lakewood Ranch High,” Hopes said.

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