The School Board of Manatee County looked into the future during their Tuesday afternoon workshop.
And the future is looking pricey.
The school district will require $180 million to build or expand enough schools to meet the projected growth in student population over the next five years.
“This is not a promise. This is a ‘have-to.’ We have to do this,” said Superintendent Diana Greene. “If we don’t, I guess we will invest in mega-portables to just put everywhere.”
The district is planning on using bonds to fund $150 million of the new construction. The remaining $30 million will be paid for using millage, sales-tax revenue and impact fees.
This is not a promise. This is a 'have-to'. We have to do this.
- Manatee Schools Superintendent Diana Greene
The area of greatest anticipated growth is in the north end of the county, which district officials projects needs $100 million to build a new elementary school and a new high school. The new elementary school will cost $20 million and accommodate 823 students. The new high school will cost $80 million and accommodate 2,000 students, according to board documents.
The district is also planning on a new middle school in the east end of the county, at an estimated cost of $45 million to accommodate 1,164 students.
Executive Planner Mike Pendley presented the projections to the board. Pendley said the numbers were based solely on new development within the county, and did not factor in birth rates or other factors.
“I think these projections are way too low,” said board member John A. Colon. “Wouldn’t it be prudent of us to plan our a little further and have a little more capacity than less? It’s cheaper to build now then it is to wait another five years or ten years.”
I think these projections are way too low. Wouldn't it be prudent of us to plan our a little further and have a little more capacity than less?
- Board member John A. Colon
But Pendley said that approach can be dangerous, citing the example of Gullett Elementary School, which was 80 percent complete when the recession halted anticipated development in the area. The district had to bus students from other schools in order to fill the school.
“You can get ahead of yourself if you are not careful,” Pendley said.
Board member Dave Miner advocated for a “grow as you go” approach. Miner said the board should keep in mind House Bill 7029, which allows students to transfer into or out of any district state-wide. Miner said the district could be opening itself up to an influx of students from other counties if it over-builds.
Greene said the three new schools along with several other capital projects was the most the district could reasonably construct in the next five years.
To issue the $150 million bond will cost nearly $1.4 million in issuance fees. The board will consider the resolution approving the bond issuance at the Jan. 24 board meeting. District officials are hoping to close the deal by the end of February.
On Tuesday the board also debated the merits of shifting school board elections from the current at-large voting setup to a single-member district alignment.
Board member Dave Miner and Board Chairman Charlie Kennedy had advocated for the shift to prevent outside-funding from influencing board elections. At-large elections require more campaign funding for candidates, which Kennedy said can make them more susceptible to outside, ideologically-driven political action committees.
The board rejected the idea of shifting to a 7-member board, which would parallel the county commission, but did not come to a consensus on whether to take steps toward the single-member district.
School board attorney James Dye said the change would require a resolution passed by the board and passage of a referendum in a primary or general election.