SARASOTA — “We are growing, and we are prepared for that.”
Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Brennan Asplen made that assessment during his State of Schools address Wednesday.
Asplen thanked the School Board members for the time they have put in over the school year, which has included dealing with COVID-19 and how it affected the school system.
“Most of you have regular jobs on top of all the research you do to make good decisions for our school district,” he said.
Asplen said there were some challenges with two new board members this year, and himself serving as the new superintendent, but the School Board worked as a team to resolve issues.
“It’s been a treat to see how everybody works together so well, and it shows that we all care about our school system.”
He applauded teachers for their efforts navigating through the course of COVID-19.
“Teachers had a new way of educating students — concurrent teaching — and they’ve done a fantastic job all year,” Asplen said. “Our education department worked tirelessly to coordinate quarantine time so students and teachers could return to school as soon as possible. 85% of students are back in the classroom, which is fantastic.”
Via a Powerpoint presentation, Asplen shared facts about the district.
• There are currently 54 schools in Sarasota County, 5,300 employees and 61% of staff hold advanced degrees.
• Bus drivers transport 17,000 students daily; 5.5 million miles a year in 950 routes.
• There are 50 food service locations throughout the county, employing 310 food service employees.
“We’ve served 2.5 million meals this year including curbside meals,” Asplen said. “Our remote learners still receive breakfast, lunches and snacks at drive-thru locations.”
“In South County, we have a pending elementary school and a high school planned in Wellen Park, and an identified elementary school in planned for Winchester Ranch in Englewood,” Asplen said. “Two new elementary schools, one middle school and a high school will be coming to North Port, and we actually own those sites. We are tracking population growth before we break ground.”
Three new schools are planned in north and central county.
The Sarasota County School District has a $967 million budget — $507 million in the general fund and $287 million in the capital fund.
Of that, 87% of the general fund goes to salaries and benefits, 93% of operating expenses are spent on instructional support and 7% on administration.
Asplen said departments have proactively reduced operating budgets by nearly $1 million this year.
“The CARES Act provided $5 million to us in August, which funded five additional training days for teachers before they returned to school,” Asplen said. “CARES Act II will provide $25 million. That money will provide targeted interventions for students including summer school for our struggling students. It will also reimburse COVID leave payments, personal protective equipment, air filtration, and school sanitation costs.”
“We’ve been an A-ranked district since 2004, and that’s incredible,” Asplen said. “90% of our schools A or B schools, and our graduation rate is 92.4%.”
Asplen said the district is also putting together the annual strategic plan.
“We’re committed to college and career readiness,” he said. “We want every senior to have a plan before they leave us and we have college success centers to provide help with that. They can help with applying for scholarships, internships and provided information on career and technical education.”
The strategic plan will be implemented in August. Parents may receive a survey in the near future for their input.
The last referendum — which passed in 2018 — brought in $66 million.
“The referendum funding preserves STEAM courses and additional instruction time,” Asplen said. “If your student is with us from Kindergarten through grade 12, they will have gained an additional full year of instruction, and this is due to the referendum.”
Asplen will be holding a series of town hall-discussions with the community.
On Monday, April 12, he will be speaking at 5:30 p.m. at Venice High School.
“I want to hear your concerns, challenges and questions,” he said.
He will be at North Port High School at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7.