MANATEE -- Ten children may symbolize Manatee County’s conundrum when it comes to busing students far from where they live.
The 10, who are white, Hispanic and black and live around Daughtrey Elementary, 515 63rd Ave. E., Bradenton, must board a bus around 7 a.m. every morning and ride for an hour to get to McNeal Elementary on Lorraine Road in East Manatee.
The 10 are among about 145 who are being bused from “pockets” near Daughtrey and Oneco elementary schools to Tara, Braden River and McNeal in order for Manatee County to meet a voluntary desegregation order set by a court a decade ago.
But in the past few years, not only have parents of these students pleaded to school officials about changing to a closer school but school district officials now believe many Manatee schools have become more diverse due to societal changes, school Superintendent Tim McGonegal said Monday.
The parents’ concerns led to three committees presenting options to the board Monday during a workshop on elementary realignment.
“Sometimes the bus is late and the trip is 90 minutes,” McNeal Assistant Principal Katherine Price told school board members. “They arrive tired and hungry.”
Due to the length of their ride home, these McNeal students are not able to take part in after-school activities, which includes after-school tutoring.
Price said the 10, who range from kindergarten to fourth grade, feel isolated, with their neighborhood peers attending different schools.
A solution would seem simple but by the comments of school board members Monday, it was obvious that the issue is more complicated. School board members are torn about what message they would be sending parents of these students.
“We are not telling them they are not wanted at these schools, but that’s the perception some will get,” said Barbara Harvey, school board member. “Perception, as we know, is reality.”
Harvey said she knows that some of the students could be thriving in their current schools.
School board members Karen Carpenter and Robert Gause want research done to know exactly what the legal ramifications of an end to busing would be.
Board member Julie Aranibar pointed out that dissolving the pockets would remove large numbers from Braden River and Tara elementary schools, which could cause those schools to lose staff.
“Braden River is teetering around 500 kids now and could lose its assistant principal if the number of students drops,” Aranibar said.
School administrator Danny Lundeen advised board members that if the students all are transferred to Daughtrey, it could need portable classrooms.
McGonegal will offer his recommendation to the board at a Dec. 13 public hearing, which is expected to end with a board vote.