SARASOTA — Plans for new schools across the southern swath of Sarasota County was among the discussions at the annual convocation of governments meeting Friday.
Sarasota County School Board Planning staff Micki Ryan and Diane Cominotti spoke about student enrollment and the future.
“Right now, we have 43,300 students enrolled and we have several areas that are growing rapidly in the county,” Ryan said. “In the south county/North Port area there are several large developments that could bring as many as 6,500 new students.”
Venice City Manager Ed Lavallee pointed out Venice High School is already over-capacity.
“We’ll be looking at that in our current capitol improvement plan as far as where we would put a new high school,” Ryan responded.
Cominotti said in North Port, there are about 40,000 plotted lots that could potentially generate about 9,500 new students.
“We do have some sites that we already own that could accommodate two new elementary schools, one middle and one high school,” Cominotti said.
Sarasota County School Board Chair Shirley Brown said the state requires a district to have students ready to attend school before building can begin.
“We can’t build a school based on projections,” Brown said. “So basically we have to be over-crowded before we can start construction.”
The district’s new leader said it is a good time to discuss what will happen next.
“It does take two to three years to build a high school, so we are actively talking about this right now,” Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Brennan Asplen said.
The future wasn’t the only topic. Right now, the district is dealing with COVID-19, said Chuck Henry, of the Sarasota County Health Department.
Currently, there are 140 students and teachers out with COVID-19, and about 800 are out on quarantine.
“Given the size of the district, that is an increase, but we are working very closely with the schools to keep students in classrooms.”
Brown said school employees who are over 65 are frustrated that they can’t get vaccinated.
“They can’t get on the phone to schedule an appointment because they are working,” Brown said. “When they are out, students can’t come to school and parents can’t work, so I’d like to see them get some kind of priority.”
Dr. Debra Giacolone, director of student support services, said about half of students who have mental health needs did not receive the services required in the previous year. She said about 60% of students who die by suicide have “underlying mental condition” and about 37% of students who drop out have mental health needs, according to national statistics.
“In Sarasota County, 12% (out of 84,000 youth) have untreated mental health needs,” she said. “That equates to over 10,000 students in our community who need help.”
The county has a crisis text line for students. Anyone can text Here4U to 741741 for help.