East County parents thankful overcrowding will ease in the short run for families living in Lakewood Ranch.
With four children in East County schools, Central Park resident Kristina Engelsberg is thrilled the School District of Manatee County is opening a new Lakewood Ranch middle school in August 2019.
Engelsberg does, however, worry the new school will not offer the FFA program her oldest son, Connor, loves at Nolan Middle School.
Longterm, she wonders if the new school will become overcrowded like Nolan, Haile and Braden River middle schools. Her other three children — Mason, Max and Brandon — are currently at B.D. Gullett Elementary.
“We’re growing leaps and bounds and the schools can’t keep up,” Engelsberg said.
Linda Rojack, a substitute teacher whose daughter, Stephanie Green, is a fifth-grader at B.D. Gullett, expects the new middle school will reach capacity quickly. However, after reviewing plans for the new middle school during a community meeting Dec. 18 at B.D. Gullett, she said she is grateful relief is coming.
District officials expect to break ground on the 62,000-square-foot middle school, which has yet to be named, in February. It will be located on 27 acres immediately east of B.D. Gullett Elementary, and is slated to open in August 2019.
The Manatee County School Board is expected to vote in January on attendance zones for the new North River High School in Parrish. After that happens, Danny Lundeen, the school district’s supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignment, will turn his focus to redistricting for the new middle school.
Lundeen said East County schools are the most overcrowded and the district aims to get their numbers “down to reasonable” again, or at least within capacity. Enrollment reductions at East County middle schools likely will be anywhere from about 100 to 300 students, possibly more.
However, Lundeen said the opening of the new school will impact every middle school in the district, not just those closest to it.
During the 2018/2019 school year, the district will have nine public middle schools. That’s one down from the current school year because Lincoln Middle is converting into a charter school and no longer will have attendance zones. Students from Lincoln will be sent to Buffalo Creek Middle, in Parrish, for that first year until permanent attendance zones are set.
“We’re going to load it up at Buffalo Creek for that one year,” Lundeen said. “We’re going to have portables in place to hold everyone.”
Harlee Middle School closed in May and the district scattered children to other middle schools in the district.
“We’re hoping to be able to align the middle schools with the high schools and get true feeder patterns,” Lundeen said. “We haven’t done (redistricting) for 10 years for middle schools.”
District officials expect the new middle school to reach capacity quickly because of residential growth in East County. Lakewood Ranch alone is growing at a pace of about 1,000 new homes per year.
Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said she expects the district will have to evaluate whether to build new elementary, middle and high schools in the East County or Parrish areas within three years.
The school district continues to evaluate a land swap offer by Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch for school sites adjacent to Premier Sports Campus. The property, which would be exchanged for land the district owns off State Road 64, potentially could be used for a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, and another high school.
Greene said those talks are still in preliminary stages, and the district will monitor its needs for schools as the community grows.