Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | November 17, 2021
Construction costs in the Sarasota County School District are skyrocketing, with the district needing to add $145 million extra to its long-term capital improvement plan to keep up, according to Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas.
The bulk of the increases are concentrated among three new schools the district will be building in the coming years, although major renovations at North Port High increased from $27 million to $59 million, and renovations at Sarasota High more than doubled, from $15 million to $30.8 million.
This year could bring a 20% or higher increase in construction costs, which is more than double what the industry normally experiences, according to a briefing the board received.
Material shortages, jobs going unfilled and rising fuel costs are all contributing to the increased bottom line.
Dumas updated the Sarasota County School Board on the plan to build three new schools in the coming years during a workshop Tuesday.
The schools are needed as soon as possible due to neighboring schools being above capacity, with Venice High (297 students above capacity), Laurel Nokomis (183 students above capacity) and Taylor Ranch Elementary (87 students over capacity) among the district’s most overcrowded schools.
Here is a look at the new schools and the impact of the higher costs:
New kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on Lorraine road in mid-county
- Anticipated start date: January 2022
- Original forecast cost: $55 million
- New estimate: $80 million
New high school in Wellen Park
- Anticipated start date: Summer 2022
- Original forecast cost: $120 million
- New estimate: $155 million
New kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in Wellen Park
- Anticipated start date: Summer 2023
- Original forecast cost: $55 million
- New estimate: $82 million
Dumas said the new construction costs were their best estimates at this point.
“It reflects current market conditions as best as the team can capture,” Dumas said.
Goodwin named chair
Also on Tuesday, the School Board appointed Jane Goodwin board chair for the coming year.
Goodwin takes over for outgoing chairwoman Shirley Brown. The board annually reorganizes, generally rotating the chairmanship duties among the board members, although Goodwin was also chairwoman in 2019. Tom Edwards will serve as vice chairman.
Karen Rose nominated Bridget Ziegler for both chair and, after that failed, for vice chair, but the board majority chose Goodwin and Edwards.
Harriet Moore, the district’s Innovation and Equity Director, presented a proposed equity policy to the board during a workshop Tuesday morning. The proposed policy was developed by a new Equity Committee.
Moore said the committee knew it was devising a plan during highly polarized times, and it sought to avoid language or priorities that would be divisive for the community.
“We are trying to make sure every single one of our children and every single one of our parents have what they need to be successful,” Moore said.
Moore said an equity policy would ensure compliance with all laws regarding equity, give guidance for decision making and keep the district accountable for providing the resources that all children need.
The board has given feedback throughout the process, and overall supported of the draft presented during the meeting.
The plan calls for staff to dig into disproportionate rates of discipline, achievement or placement in specialized programs, although the board members emphasized that this would not result in any standards being lowered.
Staff will receive professional development to ensure they are providing the necessary resources to students who need it, and the plan calls for a more diverse workforce, something the district has been working on for several years.
The School Board is required to adjust its boundaries for areas its members represent based on new census data by the end of the year.
Last week, a handful of board members suggested using the County Commission’s redistricting map, but that would have rendered board members Bridget Ziegler and Karen Rose ineligible to run for re-election at the end of their terms, and School Board attorney Dan DeLeo said that would not be in line with state law.
Manatee School Board member Charlie Kennedy made an adjusted map for the Sarasota School Board, using publicly available software. School Boards across the state are adjusting their district lines to reflect new census data, and Manatee’s board has been completing the same process, which is why Kennedy chipped in.
The tweaks do not have a major impact on voters because School Board members are elected at-large, meaning voters get to cast a ballot for their preferred candidate in all five districts. It does affect where board members must live.
DeLeo said he told Kennedy to make as few changes as possible, to keep School Board members within their existing districts and to not divide existing voter precincts with the new district lines.
The proposed map meets the criteria that he gave Kennedy, DeLeo said. Brown said she would be working with Kennedy and Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner in the coming weeks to finalize the map for a board vote before the end of the year