As Manatee County Schools Superintendent Diana Greene plans for 2018, her to-do list is extensive.
The school district is embracing growth by building the new North River High School in Parrish, breaking ground on a new Lakewood Ranch middle school and expanding campuses at Gene Witt, B.D. Gullett and Robert E. Willis elementary schools.
The additions will mean more classrooms for students and more teachers to fill them. To that end, the school district in a special referendum March 30 will be asking voters to add 1 mill — or $1 per $1,000 of assessed value — to property taxes. It would take effect July 1 if approved.
“The emphasis is on enhancing teacher and staff salaries,” Greene said of the request. “We are losing teachers quite rapidly. Sarasota has had this extra mill for 16 years. Their voters have approved it four times. It’s about leveling the playing field.”
As of December, Greene said the district was short 50 teachers and 131 positions overall, including bus drivers and other support staff.
The money from the tax would go to employees who work directly with students, not district-level employees.
Greene said money generated from the additional mill also would allow the district to add a half hour to the school day. Sarasota County’s sessions are typically 10 minutes to 30 minutes longer on a daily basis. Over the course of a child’s public education, Greene said that half hour adds up to an entire school year of learning.
“That can have a huge impact,” Greene said.
In January, the School Board will hold workshops about a proposed land swap, which would exchange property the district owns on the north side of State Road 64 just west of Dam Road, with land adjacent to Premier Sports Campus. That land could be used for a combined kindergarten and middle school and a high school campus.
Greene said there is not a need to build any other schools within the next three years, but she expects the district will have a need for them in the years to come, even after existing schools are expanded to address growth in the area.
During 2018, the district also will be implementing a new learning management system called Schoology. On the technology platform, teachers will be able to find the curriculum, view and create lesson plans and even administer lessons to students, who also can access the system on the internet to complete assignments. Through the program, teachers from different classes can collaborate on projects or share ideas and lesson plans.
For students, it creates an opportunity for learning in a technology-driven age, where many would prefer to complete assignments on their cellphones.
Cost for the Schoology program is $139,925 for the first year and $169,850 the following two years. The program is being funded through a state Department of Education Digital Classroom Grant.