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Growth continues at Manatee County schools

Although the school district does not yet have specific plans to address overcrowding and future growth, it is developing a strategy for the future.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. September 16, 2015
  • East County
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EAST COUNTY — Lakewood Ranch High School Principal Craig Little has had to get creative.

His school, built to accommodate about 1,700 students, is now about 500 students over capacity, and the growth continues.

“We’ve turned storage rooms into classrooms and a good handful of our teachers are teaching seven periods, which means they don’t get a planning period,” Little said. “That saves some classroom space. We’re just kind of brainstorming, getting creative as we can to deal with the growth.”

Although student enrollment for Manatee County schools districtwide came in below estimates this year (see box), East County schools continue to push or exceed their capacity. 

The student count after the first 10 days of school showed that East County schools have received 331 additional students compared with last year. The figure accounts for just more than half of the district’s 635 new students. 

About half of East County schools are over capacity and some, such as Braden River Middle, are close to hitting it, said Cynthia Saunders, the district’s deputy superintendent of instructional services. In total, East County’s 14 public and charter schools have a combined 1,076 more students than their capacity, with the bulk of class overages at the middle and high school levels.

Manatee County Schools Superintendent Diana Greene  said the state requires all high schools within a district to be at capacity before it will fund the construction of any additional facilities. Manatee County Schools could use revenues from its half-cent sales tax to fund new schools, or other items spelled out in the tax’s charter.

“We’ve talked about some options, but, at the moment, we don’t really have the funds to develop a new high school,” School Board Chairman Robert Gause said, noting redistricting is an option. “The superintendent and deputy superintendents are looking at options and will be presenting them to the board soon.”

The school district stopped collecting impact fees in 2009 as a way to help boost the economy, and now is participating in a joint impact fee study with Manatee County.

The school district also has hired consultant DeJong-Richter to recommend solutions. The group will lead the Educational Futures Conference Sept. 24, at Manatee Technical College, which invites the public to discuss long-range facility planning, including how best to address expected growth and shifts in student population in the next decade and beyond. It will be the first in several community workshops and also will result in the formation of a community steering committee on the topic.

DeJong-Richter is developing a three- to five-year plan that may include recommendations for redistricting, new school construction and potential locations for new schools. The report is due in January.

Saunders said the school board will use the report to develop appropriate plans.

“The immediate action is to control choice options for schools that are over capacity,” Saunders said. “We know there will be additional homes constructed in the northeast, as well as Lake Flores (development) in the west. We are ensuring future decisions will capture all such new developments.”

Greene said no matter what the numbers are, the district will continue to ensure the needs of its students are met. 

“Even though a school may be over capacity, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t providing enough instructional personnel,” Greene said, noting portables have been added in some situations and the district remains in compliance with the state’s class size regulations.

Greene said the school district will continue to review enrollment figures every six weeks throughout the year to ensure student needs are being met.



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