BRADENTON -- Manatee County School Board members face a Herculean task: deciding which of the suggested actions to take to help balance enrollment in the growing school district.
And they want to be sure they have plenty of time to think about their options, especially given that just the ideas brought by consultants have raised passions among parents.
"I need more time to go over this and digest this than an hour or an hour-and- a-half," board chairwoman Karen Carpenter said.
After a nearly four month process, Ohio-based company DeJong-Richter gave the school board a variety of options to help balance enrollment across the district. The company used district data, a group of community members called a "steering committee," and a variety of responses to generate the recommendations that the board discussed for the first time during a special workshop Tuesday.
"There is no perfect plan," said Scott Leopold, the district's liaison with DeJong-Richter. "The recommendations that we're bringing to you today aren't going to make everybody happy. There are difficult decisions ahead."
The board took no action Tuesday.
"One of the standards I'm going to use for my own deliberation is what is in the best interest of the children. All of them. All 48,000," Carpenter said. "I know some people are a little unnerved by change and I understand that, but we have to focus on what is going to help our children. All of them."
Board members peppered Leopold with questions, mostly about finances and what costs the company factored in when looking at what renovation work may be needed at schools. A new high school can cost between $80 million and $100 million, a new middle school can cost between $28 million and $32 million and a new elementary school can cost between $20 million and $23 million.
"The popular stuff is all fairly expensive," school board member Bob Gause said. "The reality is we don't have the money to exercise those options."
Build a new high school in the north/east location that can hold 1,800 students; and redistrict students at Palmetto, Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools.
Explore dual enrollment, a morning school and an afternoon school, or an extended day, if money is not available to build a new high school.
Re-purpose Harllee Middle School into an exceptional student education center and redistrict the students from that school into the district's other middle schools. That has no cost, but doesn't fully solve the problem at the middle school level. At the same time, build a new middle school to relieve Haile and Nolan middle schools.
Convert Johnson Middle School to a K-8 International Baccalaureate school, and close Wakeland Elementary School. At the same time, build a new middle school to relieve Haile and Nolan middle schools.
Build a new elementary school in the north to relieve Mills Elementary School, close Tillman Elementary School and redistrict among Palmetto, Palm View and Blackburn elementary schools at a cost of about $30 million.
Redistrict Mills students to Blackburn and/or Tillman at little to no cost.
Close Tillman Elementary and redistrict among remaining schools to balance enrollment.
Maintain existing facilities for east elementary schools, which include Bashaw, Braden River, Freedom, Gullett, NcNeal, Myakka City, Tara, Willis and Witt.
Place attractive programs in under-utilized elementary schools elsewhere in the county in an attempt to pull students out of east elementary schools.
Add additional pre-kindergarten programs to help under-utilized elementary schools in the west, which include Anna Maria, Bayshore, Miller, Moody, Palma Sola, Prine, Sea Breeze and Stewart.
Close Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School, renovate Oneco Elementary School, and create a zone for children to go to Rogers Garden Elementary School, in addition to keeping the choice program.
Close Orange Ridge and Oneco, build a new elementary school at a new location. A new school would cost about $30 million, and the district would also need to purchase land.
The steering committee identified creating a new high school as the highest priority, alleviating Mills Elementary as a second priority and then dealing with the central elementary school issue -- Orange Ridge, Oneco, Wakeland and Rogers Garden -- as the third priority.
"That's kind of where the steering committee left it," Leopold said.
Superintendent Diana Greene will now take the board's feedback and the board will have a Feb. 9 workshop. Between now and Feb. 9, Greene said the district staff will be able to meet with some of the schools that may be affected.
Other board members voiced some support for some of the recommendations but also encouraged more creative options.
Gause said the board may want to consider putting strong leadership in some of the underutilized schools to attract families.
"I have seen it. I have seen it be very successful," Gause said.
In February, Greene hopes the board will be able to develop some priorities so the staff can come back to the board for formal actions.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.