Danny Lundeen’s job is a nightmare for the math-averse.
Lundeen oversees swaths of spreadsheets, tracking how many students attend Manatee County schools and — most importantly — projecting how many students will attend those schools in the next year or in five years.
As the supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignment in Manatee County Schools, Lundeen’s projections shape school zoning decisions, the construction of new schools and transfer rulings.
And Florida state legislators may have made Lundeen’s job a lot more complex.
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Theoretically, a student living in Manatee could attend Miami Senior High School if they could find a ride to and from school every day.
Last spring, lawmakers signed a bill that expanded Florida’s already-extensive school choice policies. Under HB 7029, students may attend any school in the state regardless of where they live, as long as that school has capacity, the student has not been expelled from the home district and the student has transportation.
Theoretically, students living in Manatee could attend Miami Senior High School if they could find a ride to and from school every day.
The number crunchers in Manatee and surrounding districts are not yet sure how HB 7029 will impact them, but with open enrollment slated to begin early in the new year, they will find out soon.
With Sarasota — one of only three school districts in the state to rank as an “A” district in 2016 — just to the south, some Manatee students may be tempted to transfer.
“There’s always going to be those parents who think the grass is always greener,” said Holly Clouse, a special education teacher. Clouse teaches at Harllee Middle School — one of Manatee County’s “F” schools and where a 13-year-old was arrested last week for bringing a loaded gun to school.
There’s always going to be those parents who think the grass is always greener.
- Holly Clouse, special education teacher at Harllee Middle School
Clouse worries that the new policy will compound difficulties for schools like Harllee, which is set to be closed at the end of this year and converted into a school for gifted students in grades four through eight. More options for parents means fewer students in the hallways, which in turn means fewer state dollars for the school. Harllee has capacity for 1,013 students, but only 211 are enrolled this year.
“Original open enrollment killed this school,” Clouse said, describing the death spiral that ensued as state testing ramped up and the school lost students to other Manatee middle schools with higher scores on state metrics.
Lundeen said while some counties fear a mass exodus of students, geography may work in the Manatee’s favor.
“There are some (districts) that are very worried about it that have schools that are right on the borderline,” Lundeen said.
In Manatee County, many of the schools with the lowest scores are located centrally in the county. Even Harllee, one of the southern-most schools in the county, is six miles from Sarasota’s C-rated Booker Middle School, 11 miles from B-rated Brookside Middle and 19 miles from A-rated Sarasota Middle.
And districts ultimately decide whether to accept students based on capacity, so even if a wave of students wanted to enter or exit the county, it would be contingent on there being space.
Some of the schools around here are rough. But I have no desire for my child to go to Sarasota just because of what we have here.
- Arleen Hayes, 30, mother of a student at Seabreeze Elementary
Arleen Hayes, 30, has a step-son who attends Sea Breeze Elementary. She said she is not thinking about transferring to Sarasota because she loves Sea Breeze, but she can understand why some parents would.
“Some of the schools around here are rough,” Hayes said. “But I have no desire for my child to go to Sarasota just because of what we have here.”
The Sarasota County School Board will be voting on advertising changes to its district policies regarding open enrollment at the board’s Jan. 3 meeting.
Sarasota spokesman Scott Ferguson said the board is “in preparation for serving any new students. They are setting the rules in place for how it will work.”
“We really don’t know how it will affect us because we already have students coming from other districts,” Ferguson said. “We don’t know with the policies involving transportation, it’s hard to say how many students will apply.”