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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

School board says bus King Middle students

After surveying parents and faculty from King Middle School, the Manatee County School Board unanimously backed Superintendent Roger Dearing's recommendation to bus students to the new Braden River High School campus beginning in April 2005.

While King is slated for new construction, the school district has faced obstacles to planning construction on the school site and keeping students in session.

The survey asked for input on four construction options, including building a portable city at a cost of $3 million, holding double sessions at Sugg Middle School, busing students 13 miles to Braden River High School, and building the entire facility on the recently purchased 6.3 acre Bollettieri site adjacent to the existing campus.

Of the 1,122 surveys sent, 378 were returned. Results showed 44 percent in favor of busing to Braden River, 40 percent in favor of building on the Bollettieri site, 9 percent favoring portables and 2 percent favoring double sessions. Four percent of parents recommended other options.

"It would be December or January before we'd ever get portables on campus, if we could obtain them," Dearing said. He said hurricane-damaged schools have priority on portables. "The expense of moving into portables would be a $3.8 million option."

And board members agreed with Dearing that although double sessions have been done before, it disrupts two school communities.

Placing the new school building on the recently acquired 6.5 acres would also require the school district to purchase two homes adjacent to the campus to get the best use of the property, but Dearing noted that the King campus is cramped on the 17 acres it utilizes now.

Dearing said a parent/developer suggested swapping the King property for 29 undeveloped acres on 75th Street Northwest and Ninth Avenue Northwest near the Hawthorne Park residential development.

Dearing told the board that the suggestion was researched and the site would require extensive infrastructure work because it's in a flood plain and its elevation would have to be built up from 4.5 feet to 11 or 12 feet.

The proposed site would also need a sewer system and rezoning, and Ninth Avenue would have to be widened to accommodate traffic.

Based on these findings, Dearing recommended King move its operation to the Braden River campus after spring break in April. Students would be bused to the high school campus for the last nine weeks of the school year and continue to attend school across town for the entire 2005-06 school year.

W.G. Mills construction company indicated it would take 16.5 months to prepare and build the new school for a fall 2006 opening.

Parents and community members filled the school board chambers last week to provide comment on Dearing's recommendation.

A representative of Hawthorne Park noted its residents opposed the land swap proposal for the same reasons Dearing presented to the board.

King student Keeley Lanzisera told the board she opposed losing an hour and a half of her day due to the busing schedule and believes students will lose the benefit of the caring environment that exists now if moved to another community.

Several parents backed Lanzisera's argument, saying students would suffer a loss in extra-curricular activities, social development with friends and undue stress. One parent suggested students would be exposed to drug abuse and advanced sexual behavior if bused, saying, "middle school is hard enough."

Islander Suki Janisch said she could put up with the inconvenience of busing if the board will consider utilizing buses equipped with seatbelts and air conditioning.

King Principal Joe Stokes said his staff would support the board's decision. "We have more than 100 buses transporting students to various schools now and our administration is confident we will get a schedule that fits the lifestyle of our parents," he said.

Stokes also noted that the same staff that students see at school now will be at the Braden River campus.

"You have given us three weeks," argued Bill Marshall. "We'd like to have more time than that. None of our children have been questioned about the impact it would have on them. I pray you sit back and give people in our community time to be part of this decision."

Dearing said he's heard that the school board is rushing into a decision and also that it's taking so long. "It seems," he said, "we've taken a long time to rush into this decision."

"To hear parents say they will not be inconvenienced for a year saddens me," said board member Barbara Harvey. "We have kindergarten students who are bused every day and their parents love them and want them to be safe. To say 'No' to busing says 'Only me and my child matter and I don't care about the rest.'"

Dearing assured parents that every effort will be made to work with the school administration in setting a suitable schedule that will accommodate working parents and that the district has contacted local organizations about providing after school activities for students.

Dearing assured that the middle school will maintain seperate space on the high school campus and will continue to have its own faculty and administrative staff.

Dearing also suggested that existing portables at the King campus could be relocated to Sugg and a small portion of the school staff could teach students there, although the portables can only house up to 250 students. If parents want that option, priority would be given to families living farthest from Braden River, such as those on the barrier islands.

Finally, board members unanimously approved a purchase agreement with Bay Oaks Subdivision to purchase the strip of land located between King Middle School and the former Bollettieri tennis club property.