Student enrollment increases at Manatee schools

MANATEE -- Student enrollment in the Manatee school district has increased for the sixth consecutive year, with district officials projecting more than 45,000 students this school year.

Enrollment has increased by about 875 students, according to a five-day count taken Aug. 24. District officials expect more than 1,000 new students when final counts are taken in October, said Danny Lundeen, district supervisor of student demographics, projections and assignment.

Growth is good for the district. Manatee County receives about $6,400 per student in state funding. And the increase indicates that the economy could be taking a turn for the better.

"Hopefully, it's a good sign that the economy is starting to grow," said the district's chief financial officer, Michael Boyer.

About 60 to 70 percent of the growth occurred in charter schools, though Lundeen said it's not completely clear from which schools those students transferred. He expects that information to be available in the next couple of days.

Whether new teachers will be hired to accommodate student growth has yet to be determined.

Lundeen said district administrators have been meeting to determine what adjustments will be made in order to keep in line with the Class Size Amendment, which determines the number of students allowed in a classroom based on grade level.

In the meantime, the district will continue to track enrollment. A 10-day count will be taken Monday and an official count for state funding occurs in October.

In the past couple of years, district officials have had to pay penalties to the state for exceeding class sizes.

Boyer said that while the

district tries to avoid penalties by asking schools to examine or manipulate their class schedules, sometimes those penalties are unavoidable.

"We are going to do what's right for the student," Boyer said. "If you are one student over, it doesn't make sense to hire a teacher."

Both Lundeen and Boyer said the district has been careful to avoid making decisions, such as shuffling around students or teachers, based on numbers that most likely will change in the upcoming weeks.

This caution is partly a response to the opening of the new charter schools, and part of the reason that some elementary schools in the district started the year with more substitute teachers.

"We were very cautious this year," Lundeen said. "We asked schools not to hire until those counts were made."