BRADENTON -- For a parent who felt as though the district didn't take her opinion into account when proposing to close down Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School next year, Ortencia DeLeon wanted to know how she could trust the situation would be good for her child next year.
"You're going to have to trust us," Manatee County School Distict Superintendent Diana Greene responded.
On Monday, Greene and a team from the district spoke to about 75 parents and community members, answering questions in both English and Spanish, like DeLeon's, for more than an hour about what would happen to students, staff and why the district felt the move was necessary.
"This move is more about the facility," Greene said. "We can't get the facility up to standard."
Orange Ridge would be the first, but not the only, school to close under a long-range plan to help balance enrollment across the Manatee County School District. Greene made a series of recommendations to the board in Febraury after the district worked with DeJong-Richter, an Ohio-based company that helps bring all the pertinent data together. Under board policy, commitees are working to help the district re-draw attendance zones, which would ultimately move students out of Orange Ridge and into surrounding schools. The re-drawn zones will go before the board on April 12.
Under the current proposal, Rogers Garden Elementary School is slated to pick up most of the Orange Ridge students, but Ballard, Daughtrey, Oneco and Samoset elementary schools will also be affected.
Part of the reason behind Greene's recommendation is the physical condition of Orange Ridge. Conservative estimates say the school needs at least $7 million worth of work just on the drainage system alone to bring it up to par.
Andrea Koch, a parent, questioned the drainage estimate and said she hasn't seen construction crews on campus to do any preventative work. Lakie Earley, a parent and an employee, also questioned why the district hadn't do an upkeep on the school.
"Why'd it take so long?" she asked.
Greene and her staff said they weren't working in the distirct when the problems started and added that the economic downturn took a toll on a number of the district schools that needed maintenance work.
"There weren't any additional dollars to address the problems," she said.
Orange Ridge is in a special situation as the Bullock building on campus houses programs for ESE students who need special equipment, therapy and smaller class sizes. Under the proposal, the one-story wing at Rogers would house all the Bullock students and the two-story wing would be open for traditional students. Inaki Rezola, who has a student in the Bullock program now, said is seems as though it's a "fait accompli" or final decision that Bullock will move to Rogers Garden.
"My concern is that for the Bullock parents I don't think there's a voice," he said.
Greene assured Rezola and the other parents that all the same services would be available for the Bullock students and that if they are in the Bullock program now, they'll be guaranteed a spot in the same program at Rogers Garden if the decision is made final. And Greene added she recommended a named change to honor the Bullock program, proposing Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School as a possibility.
"It needs to be one elementary school," she said.
Greene said she couldn't guarantee all the teachers and staff from Orange Ridge would head to Rogers Garden because there's a process laid out in the teacher contracts that spells out the process. Some of the teachers may opt to work at the open slots there and some may want to take open positions elsewhere in the district. Greene also couldn't speak to who the principal at the school would be. As the process moved forward, Greene encouraged parents to stay involved and said to look out for information from the district.
"Every parent will be notified by letter," she said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.