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Manatee School officials explain school choices during town hall meeting

BRADENTON -- Questions surrounding school choice, including charter and virtual schools, were answered during the Manatee school district’s third annual town hall meeting Thursday night at Manatee High School’s Davis Theater.

The meeting’s theme: the changing face of education.

A panel of five familiar faces included Superintendent Tim McGonegal, Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber, Associate Director of Innovative Programs and Parental Options Verdya Bradley, Fund Education Now’s Manatee County President Christine Sket and State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

“We want parents to have choices. Parents vote with their feet. I heard that ten times today,” McGonegal said. “We’re looking at all our progress. We’re comparing our programs to charter programs. We want to do better.”

Once the panel discussion was over, many parents were more concerned about the budget and how financial limitations could strip away electives or rigorous courses.

“I’m concerned about the budget cuts. They didn’t mention that and I need to leave because they have to do homework,” said parent Luz Ospina, pointing to her sons.

Her concerns weighed heavily on the minds of other parents, too.

“I’m looking for assurances that we will main- tain the IB program in Manatee County,” Tom Whitaker said to McGonegal.

McGonegal responded: “That’s an easy question. We have no plans to cut rigorous programs.”

That response might have eased Ospina’s mind and that of her son Jacobo Ospina if they had been around to hear it.

Jacobo, a Lakewood Ranch High School freshman, was concerned about advance placement classes.

“If they cut electives, would they consider cutting AP, too?” Jacobo said.

When another parent asked if electives, such as art, physical education and music, might be cut during budget cuts, McGonegal responded, “No. Not in Manatee County.”

During the panel discussion, Bradley offered an overview of charter and virtual schools in Manatee County.

“All of you are here because you are connected to the community,” she said. “Choice is about quality. If you really like to make the best choice, look for quality.”

Sket advised parents to be advocates for their children. She said she did her research to determine what school would be best for her children on an individual basis.

“We are fortunate in this county to have very good schools to choose from,” she said. “I think we as parents need to take a very active, responsible role.”

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