MANATEE -- Citing a variety of reasons and hailing from all areas of the county, a group of about 30 community members began mapping out a plan Wednesday to explore options to handle continued growth in the Manatee County School District.
Some were teachers, others parents. A few were both teachers and parents.
Principals, assistant principals and retired community members were all among those dubbed the "steering committee," which will work with Ohio-based DeJong-Richter to recommend options for the Manatee County School Board in the spring.
"I'm very much interested in whole system," said Norm Nelson, a retiree who lives in the community and has taken an active interest in the school system. "That's why I'm here, to make sure things work better."
The two-hour meeting was held in the district professional support center. The steering committee was led through process by Scott Leopold from DeJong-Richter.
"The goal of this process is to create the best plan for all students in Manatee County," Leopold said.
The committee will help lead another community dialogue to gather input from parents and community member from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the cafeteria at Lincoln Middle School.
Steering committee members shaped a questionnaire to be given out next week to get a pulse of how community members feel about different options the district could pursue on a variety of topics. The steering committee will help lead a group discussion afterward and assist in collecting the data and hearing the issues raised by community members.
The questionnaire asks community members to rank options on certain topics, and the draft included dollar symbols next to the options to mark how expensive different options are relative to another.
Part of the discussion focused on whether the questionnaire should include a ranking system with some committee members saying they are concerned the dollar signs might skew opinions.
"Then we'll know what people really want regardless of the cost," said Lela Hartsaw, a community resident with two elementary school students.
Leopold said the dollar sign debate is one school districts have all the time, and it's pretty evenly split whether communities use them or not.
Ultimately, the group voted to take the dollar signs out, but Leopold said he'd work on adding some other questions about what people are willing to finance.
The money question was a big one arising from a previous meeting, Leopold said.
"We're talking about renewing the existing sales tax and possibly expanding it, depending on what the needs are. That's what is funding the capital process of this plan," Leopold said.
After a number of community meetings and data analysis, the community will bring options for the school board to consider in the spring.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 914-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.