BRADENTON -- Plans are taking shape for a potential overhaul of the Manatee County School District, as the district starts the search for a company to take on the monumental task -- which may include opening new schools, closing existing schools or redistricting the existing patterns in the district.
The district is in a time of change, with exponential growth in enrollment, a number of new housing projects planned and continued development in the eastern part of the county. Officials have put out a request for proposals for a company to do long-range planning for the district, and recently met with some potentially interested companies.
"This is for every brick that we own, every acre of land, every bus -- the whole district," said Robert Johnson, the district's director of planning and performance management.
The bid is due back to the district at the end of January and the district hopes to have a contract awarded at a board meeting in April so the work can truly begin.
"We need to adequately respond to the change," Johnson said. "We need to meet the needs of the entire county with equity."
The chosen company will perform a countywide assessment looking at economic, social and environmental factors, and report back to the
board with recommendations. That could mean redistricting how the schools currently flow into one another, closing schools, adding on to existing schools or building new ones. Once the analysis is completed, the company will present options for the board to consider.
The district is currently operating at 90 percent capacity overall, with a total student capacity of 45,304 compared to 40,601 students enrolled as of October, according to an enrollment sheet provided by the district through a Bradenton Herald public records request.
Looking collectively at the district's six traditional high schools, the district is over capacity by 203 students. Lakewood Ranch has 519 more students than it can handle and Braden River has 392 more than the school was built to handle. Southeast High School, the enrollment for which was affected by opening Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools, has the most availability, running at 79 percent capacity with 389 open spots.
The district's 10 middle schools are operating at 87 percent capacity, with four schools over capacity and one school labeled as near capacity. Nolan Middle School, with 1,130 students enrolled as of Oct. 17, is operating at 122 percent capacity. The school has 206 more students than it was built to hold.
The other over-capacity middle schools are Haile Middle School, Buffalo Creek and Lee Middle School. King Middle School is considered near-capacity, and is 96 percent filled. Harllee Middle is operating at 41 percent capacity.
Six of the district's 33 elementary schools are over-capacity and five are considered near capacity. Virgil Mills, Prine, Moody, Bayshore, Freedom and Braden River are overcapacity. Williams, Willis, McNeal, Kinnan, Bashaw and Miller are all considered near-capacity.
Palm View is operating half full and Rogers Garden is operating at 39 percent capacity.
But student enrollment and capacity are just one piece of the puzzle. The district will ask the company to look at building information, enrollment, school performance, feeder patterns, what each school offers and transportation. The district will provide that information to the company once the bid is awarded. The information is not yet available, according to a public records request sent to the district.
At the end of the process, the district wants five recommendations to improve the district's operational efficiencies as a whole. But the district would also like a top 10 list of singular actions the district could take to improve immediately.
As the potential to close schools or draw new lines can be emotional for parents and families, the company needs to be able to provide an explanation as well.
"We need to know why you made the choices you made," Johnson said.
The district would like the company to provide cost estimates and timelines for the potential changes as well. Proposals are due back to the district at the end of January and the district hopes to evaluate the bids in the first week of February.
The goal is to award the one-year contract on April 14, during a school board meeting, but the dates may move, said Beth Sharp, a school district employee in the purchasing department who was responsible for putting the request for proposal out.
"Right now, those are target dates; they could slip one way or the other," Sharp said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.