Manatee County can take low-cost steps to gain a better grip on school enrollment for the next school year. First, the county should conduct an annual school census which mails every household a form asking to identify the ages of children in the household and whether or not they intend to enroll in a county school.
Fairfax County, Va., which is just outside Washington, D.C. has done this for years and found it to be a reliable gauge on students who have moved into and out of the county. Fairfax is a growing area that has a school enrollment far higher than Manatee.
Perhaps the county could create this census online and use its database of parent emails to identify incoming siblings by forwarding the link to parents with at least one child enrolled.
Second, Manatee County does not have a method for incoming students to enroll after the schools close in early June until mid-August, shortly before the schools reopen. As a result, the schools claim surprise when an extra 50 or more students enroll by opening day or at the five- and 10-day post-opening dates. This leaves the schools scrambling to hire additional teachers at the last minute.
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Manatee County must create an online school enrollment process that allows parents to sign up for their neighborhood schools during the summer when schools are closed. This would help the schools better gauge their need for additional teachers at an earlier point in time.
Third, any school in excess of 100 percent capacity should be closed to school choice which allows students living outside the enrollment boundary of a school to choose to attend other schools even if already overcrowded.
None of these steps has a high price tag, so there should be no barrier to implementing them. These steps are not an alternative to the Ohio-based consultant's report expected in January, but these steps could avert the need for a future expensive study once the new schools are built.