Manatee school enrollment slides despite population spike

eearl@bradenton.comMay 28, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County's population is among the fastest growing in the state, yet school district officials expect student enrollment to drop.

Bradenton's population is up 3.4 percent since the 2010 census, yet school officials estimate 1,000 fewer students will show up in the fall.

Growth isn't coming from families with children, school officials say. It's coming from older people and retirees.

"We could have a migration of older people whose households do not bring children to enter the school system," University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said.

Snaith said workers with families will move back as the economy continues to improve.

"It is a possibility. I have seen signs of recovery and construction, which would generate employment opportunities," he said. "Although statewide, we have

not seen massive growth in construction."

Snaith said population growth likely reflects an increase in retiree arrivals.

"Along with work, the stronger economy also enables those wanting to retire to carry on with their retirement plans," Snaith said. "Both hiring and retirement came to a halt during the financial crisis."Snaith said new job creation is not robust, which could explain conservative school enrollment projections.

Deputy superintendent of operations Don Hall said families with no children, retirees or people relocating while planning for retirement are common to the Bradenton area.

"It is hard to say unless you can drill down to the age of the people," school board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said. "But my impression is that there is an increase of old people that would not impact the schools."

To restore its financial reserves, the Manatee School District is cutting staff as the population increase is not projected to add to enrollment.

Carpenter said cuts are crucial, yet the district can be flexible based on class-size criteria.

"We would adjust up or down for incremental changes as the numbers can change," Carpenter said.

Sometimes, when schools cut staff, hiring needs become more apparent when the school year starts, she said.

"You have people that move, retire early, get pregnant, all sorts of adjustments," Carpenter said.

Deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene said the projection for decreased enrollment is just an estimate.

"Right now, staffing is based on current projections, but adjustments are made after the 10-day count," Greene said.

The district counts students for 10 days at the start of the school year to determine how many seats are filled.

"We have to base the enrollment on actual children sitting in seats," Greene said.

Data used to estimate enrollment comes from student surveys in October each year, in which students are counted and the district verifies who is attending Manatee County schools, and what services are received, such as exceptional student education and vocational programs.

Greene said private schools also need to be considered when considering student enrollment.

"The whole population does not indicate all students who are coming to the public schools," Greene said.

Hall said the district is estimating a decrease in students based on past trends, but it must do so carefully.

"If you overestimate the number of students, than you end up losing funding," Hall said. "If you underestimate, you run the risk of not having enough funds for the students that are there."

Greene said enrollment projections are based on historical trends, housing markets, birth and graduation rates.

"We are trying to gather as much information as possible," Greene said.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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