Education

Manatee County School Board sets hearing for proposed Wakeland Elementary, Johnson Middle merger

Diana Greene, superintendent of Manatee County schools, speaks about impact fees during the monthly meeting of the Manatee Tiger Bay Club. Greene has proposed merging two district schools. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald
Diana Greene, superintendent of Manatee County schools, speaks about impact fees during the monthly meeting of the Manatee Tiger Bay Club. Greene has proposed merging two district schools. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald gjefferies@bradenton.com

BRADENTON -- Moving along in a series of decisions to help balance school district enrollment, the Manatee County School Board will vote whether to close down Frances Wakeland Elementary School and merge those students with the students at Louise R. Johnson Middle during a May meeting.

On Tuesday, the school board approved setting a public hearing at the May 24 meeting. If approved by the board in May, it'll be

the second formal approval in a series of recommendations made by Superintendent Diana Greene. The decision wouldn't go into effect until the 2017-18 academic year.

The public hearing will allow members of the public to speak to the board on the topic before the vote.

Although board member Bob Gause said he supports the staff recommendation, he reiterated he would have liked to see a different solution.

"My preference would have been to take Wakeland and move it to another under-utilized elementary school," Gause said. That would have allowed Wakeland and Johnson to continue to grow programs.

Wakeland has an elementary international baccalaureates program and Johnson has a middle school IB program. Most IB students leave Wakeland and head to Johnson.

Southeast High offers an IB program at the high school level.

The Wakeland building is suffering structurally, according to Manatee County School District officials. Foundation repairs have failed twice already and the district does not think another attempt would be worth the expense, instead proposing the combination at Johnson.

Concerned Wakeland parents met with Greene in January to discuss the pros and cons of the consolidation, with some arguing a cohesive K-8 IB program would strengthen the school and others expressing concern for combining students in that age range on one campus.

For the first few years, Greene proposed the schools operate separately under one roof, but eventually Greene proposed combining the school into one K-8 program.

The board also approved:

Financing major renovations and an eight-classroom addition at Bashaw Elementary School. The $12 million project will be partially funded by impact fees, with sales tax revenue also used as part of what the district promised when the sales tax was passed. Impact fees can be used for the addition, but not for renovations.

Demolishing an outdated building at Oneco Elementary School and constructing brand new portables for $747,000. Down the road, the district plans to rebuild Oneco, most likely in a new location.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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