Proposal to halt bus service for charter schools removed from Manatee School Board meeting agenda

jajones1@bradenton.comMay 10, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The Manatee School District is considering halting its contracted transportation service to charter schools as a cost-cutting measure, but the proposal has been removed from Tuesday's school board meeting agenda for further consideration.

The District Transportation Department estimated a net savings to the district of $55,000 if the service was halted.

School board members were set to take up the recommendation at their regular board meeting, which begins at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

The district now provides bus service for Palmetto Charter, Just for Girls Academy, Manatee School for the Arts and State College of Florida Collegiate charter schools.

Rowlett Charter has requested transportation services beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

The news that contracted bus service could be cut off was greeted by dismay at charter schools.

Students at Manatee School for the Arts are circulating a petition, and had collected 84 signatures by early Friday. The students were also planning protests against the proposal.

"For schools who are treading water, it would be a death sentence. My personal school alone would lose over 75 percent of its students. That would mean a massive loss of revenue and likely cancellation," the petition reads.

Dimitri Nicoli Jansen, a teacher at Manatee School for the Arts, has written school board members to voice his disappointment.

"Over 40 percent of our students are on free and reduced lunch and many could not provide themselves with transportation if the funding is cut. We are talking about upwards of 1,500 students that have made a choice and have a passion to attend a school that offers them artistic possibilities they cannot find anywhere else and let me remind you that these are students you have been elected to serve," Jansen wrote.

Becky Canesse, CEO for Just for Girls, praised Sheryl Riker, the district's director of transportation, for her management of the complex bus system. But at the same time, she hopes contracted bus service to charter schools will continue.

"We are at a breaking point. I think we all are," Canesse said. "These are real challenging times for us. We are a new charter school, and we are a small charter school. I am an optimist and a big supporter of the school district."

Steve Valley, director of communications and family/community engagement for the school district, confirmed Friday that the proposal had been removed from the school board agenda for further review.

Charter schools that provide their own transportation include Imagine North Charter School, Imagine Lakewood Ranch, Team Success and Oasis. Visible Men Academy contracts with a private company.

In other business Tuesday, the school board is set to:

• Hold a public hearing on a new district policy for the management of sports-related head injuries and concussions. Under the 12-page policy, details are spelled out for parental consent, post-injury testing, procedures for coaches and trainers to follow, the requirement for each school to have a designated team assigned to manage each student-athlete as they recover from their concussion, return to play procedures and more.

• Hear an interim update from Shinn and Company on the district's internal audit. The audit is seeking to identify deficient areas so they can be corrected prior to state and federal officials making their next audit. The Bradenton Herald has previously reported that the three highest financial risk areas for the district are in human resources, information systems and finance and budgeting.

Among shortcomings Shinn and Company has noted are the lack of written policies and procedures for the worker's compensation process.

Tuesday's regular meeting will be preceded by a workshop at 3 p.m.

Among workshop business:• School board members are set to hear an update on proposed changes to the student code of conduct.

The changes are wide-ranging, touching on reports to law enforcement and Department of Children and Families, expulsion of students who commit acts involving firearms, removal of students from campus for witness purposes, and allowing students to carry and use food items for diabetes.

• School Board members are set to have a discussion with board attorney Jim Dye on the employment contract for Superintendent Rick Mills.

Mills' contract, signed Feb. 26, 2013, runs through June 30, 2016, subject to extension or termination at the end of his contract.

Recently completed evaluations by board members ranked him at "above expectations" or "well above expectations" in all categories.

The average score given Mills was 9.25 out of 10, ranking him as an "excellent superintendent, exceeds expectations in many areas."

All school board members evaluated Mills except David "Watchdog" Miner. Miner said he has until June 1 to submit his evaluation, according to terms in the superintendent's contract.

Also set for discussion are the yearly review of audit functions, yearly review of the school board attorney, policy and procedure for hiring the superintendent, and documenting the hiring procedure the school board attorney, superintendent, internal auditor, and audit committee.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1.

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