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Manatee County fighting overcrowded schools

District leaders coming up with creative solutions
Posted at 2:58 PM, Jul 29, 2016
As kids head back to school, many students in Manatee county will be returning to overcrowded schools. Every one of their six high schools is at or over capacity.
 
However, the school district is continuing to come up with creative options to create more space for students as they wait to see if voters renew a half-cent sales tax to build new schools and repair existing ones.
 
"This used to be one of our teacher resource rooms," said Lakewood Ranch High Principal Craig Little, taking ABC Action News into a former teacher storage room. "Now we've had to convert it into a computer lab."
 
You can still see the marks on the walls where they removed the storage cabinets and replaced them with computers. 
 
Lakewood Ranch High is expected to be several hundred students overcapacity this school year. They now have 21 portable classrooms after recently adding three more.
 
They are using any space they can. The school is now so full, the district has stopped allowing students to be able to use school choice to enroll there.
 
"It's just important in the next couple years that we really get caught up on all those needs," said Michael Barber, spokesperson for Manatee County Schools.
 
Barber said the school district is banking on a half-cent sales tax renewal. He said the district already has some existing properties ready to go that could hold new schools. That's what the tax would pay for, he said. 
 
The hope is that a new high school would relieve pressure on places like Lakewood Ranch High.
 
"How we're going to fund that and when the timing is going to be, a lot of that is going to depend on whether the referendum passes for the half-penny sales tax," Barber said.
 
And while the school district waits to see if that referendum passes on November 8, new homes continue to go up in the East and Western parts of Manatee County, all filled with new families.
 
"It's just kind of a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul here. We've limited it here, but what is the immediate need? The immediate need is we need student space," Little said.
 
The immediate need is a new high school, the district said. However, school leaders expect to need a new middle and elementary school in growing areas soon too.
 
While the district is seeing a lot of growth and overcapacity schools in the east and western parts of the county, many schools in the central part of Manatee County remain under capacity. In fact, the district has already closed down one aging school and moved those students to a newer school less than a mile away.