BRADENTON -- Deciding how a potential residential development would affect nearby Manatee County school enrollment involves more than just looking at the number of empty seats in the closest schools.
The Manatee County School District works with officials from county and affected cities to provide reports on how well schools would be able to handle growth.
Populations and residences, state guidelines and an interlocal agreement signed by the different entities all are used to calculate the decision-making process.
The Manatee County School Board heard more about the process during a workshop Wednesday and more about available capital funds. As growth in the county continues, new schools will be needed in the next couple years.
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The board will be tasked with figuring out how many schools are needed and where -- and how to pay for them.
"The only thing that really restricts us from building a new school is the funding source," said Amy Anderson, district facilities and planning manager.
The state won't funnel money for new schools unless a district has reached capacity and is poised for new growth. Sometimes, state calculations for how many new students are coming to the district don't match up with the district's own predictions.
The state won't let district officials use state money --
including the local millage -- to pay for new schools.
That leaves districts with sales tax, impact fees or voter-approved borrowing to pay for new schools, officials said.
"Everything else they (state officials) have touched and they say is their money," said Mike Pendley, school district executive planner.
The state and the district often differ on how much capacity is readily available in existing schools -- the difference between what officials called "building capacity" and "programmatic capacity."
For example, some classrooms are built to hold 18 students in a class, according to the state. But the district may need to use that classroom for exceptional student education or English as second language programs with only be five or six students because of learning disabilities or other circumstances.
"Many of these students have profound disabilities," Superintendent Diana Greene said. "We have to have large rooms with a small number of students."
The different calculations means the state says there's room sometimes even when the district says there isn't.
As the Manatee County Commission looks to approve growth, multiple reports are sent from the district to help in the process as developments move along, but school officials stressed they have no say in the approval process.
"We have no land use authority," Anderson said. "The report is merely to let them know what will happen if they approve this development."
The district is coming up on a critical point, Anderson said, where schools will reach and surpass their level of service. Schools do need to get overcapacity before a new school will be built, to ensure there will be enough students to enroll in the new school.
A study being conducted by Ohio-based DeJong-Richter, a consulting company the district hired, will help the board navigate where new schools should be built. The first community forum with DeJong-Richter is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 24 at Manatee Technical College's State Road 70 campus.
Officials say they have an idea of where schools may be needed based on population growth.
"It's happening in north and east side of our county," Anderson said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.