Manatee County sees student increase of almost 1,000

Officials 'surprised' by increase, but plan to hire 85 new teachers should cover it

eearl@bradenton.comAugust 31, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County school district has hundreds more students in the classrooms than it expected, according to a state-mandated count of students after the first 10 days of school.

The 10-day count completed Friday shows the district has 46,008 students in seats. Before the count, the district projected enrollment at 45,343 students, according to the county provided to the state.

The 10-day count shows a decrease of 184 students in the district's elementary schools, an increase of 255 students in the district's 10 middle schools and an increase of 910 students in the district's six high schools. These numbers were required to be sent to the state Friday.

Over the summer, the district called for staffing for a decline of about 1,000 students, saying students were leaving the district and those residents moving in did not have children.

School board spokesperson Mike Barber said that there was a reason the district was staffing for fewer students.

"At no time were we planning to be at 1,000 less students," Barber said. "We were overstaffed, and in order to get staffing in line, we had to staff as if we had 1,000 less students."

School board member Barbara Harvey, who calls the 10-day count a count of the "warm bodies" sitting in classrooms, said that she did not know why the district predicted hiring for 1,000 fewer students earlier in the year,

but she did say that there are multiple reasons for the increase.

"Many students have returned from charter schools, and there are also students here for the first time," Harvey said. "Look around Bradenton and you will see multiple developments. People are moving into Manatee County, which is a good thing. Now we need to provide the best education they can receive."

School board vice chairwoman Julie Aranibar said that 200 students moved from charter schools.

According to the 10-day count, charter schools had a decrease of 192 students, although Aranibar said that she could not say for sure how many came back to district schools.

"There are 900 individual reasons for coming to our public schools, and now we have to make accommodations," Aranibar said.

The district is getting more than $311 million from the state for its student population.

Deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene said that $3,900 per student is the baseline allocation from the state.

"This is not taking into account services such as (exceptional student education) and (English for speakers of other languages)," Greene said.

The district is getting an additional $2.1 million in funds for the increased student enrollment.

Even before the 10-day count, the district made the decision to hire 85 teachers for increased enrollment.

Greene said 85 teachers should be sufficient.

"I am not concerned about having enough teachers," Greene said. "We want to be as close as we can for class size, but sometimes we can't make it."

Greene said the district won't usually hire a new teacher if a classroom is over by only one to three students, as long as the current staff is meeting the needs of schools.

Greene used Rogers Garden Elementary as an example.

"There is one fifth-grade class with 25 students," Greene said. "They are three students over, but we would not hire another teacher."

Greene said that she feels the district is prepared for the increase in students.

"We will have the opportunity to balance out classes, and it will be a stressful time," Greene said. "Once the school year is started people don't like change, but it is what is needed for classrooms that are overcrowded."

Greene and school board member Bob Gause said the extra $2,1 million will go toward hiring the 85 additional teachers the district has deemed necessary.

"The thing most people do not realize is that when a school district ends up with fewer students than its projections, the state takes money given for the students back," Gause said "When we come in over projection, the issue we run into is that we don't get as much money for each student over."

The projected cost to hire 85 teachers is $4.3 million, to be covered by the $2.1 million from state funding, $1.2 million from Title I funding, and $1 million set aside from the district's budget to rehire teachers.

School board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner said he is comfortable with the addition of 85 teachers, although he said the district did not see that kind of student increase coming.

"I really applaud staff being on top of this unexpected event," Miner said. "I really do not have any reason to question the staff in their estimate."

Gause said that after the public hearing Thursday, he has a better understanding of the district's budget.

"The most fundamental change is figuring out what the actual costs really are, and what it costs to create equity in schools, " Gause said. "It sounds to me like (Superintendent Rick) Mills and his team have made that transition of tracking actual labor costs in each school, which is a Herculean task."

Aranibar said that from the line-item budget released last week, she has an understanding of how much money is budgeted for each school.

"It is an interesting process, figuring out the amount of funding it takes to provide exceptional student education, Title I, the extra hour of instruction in schools and other services for children," Aranibar said.

Aranibar said that she expects the budget process for the 2014-15 budget to start sooner next year. "It is not a perfect budget because of the timing," Aranibar said. "Typically we start in fall."

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

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