The Buzz

By Hannah Wallace October 31, 2006

Leading Questions

Will the slowdown in student growth continue?

By now we've heard the news. School districts around the state, including Sarasota and Manatee, have downsized the number of students they expect to fill classrooms in 2006-07. The trend began last year and came as a surprise after years of more than 65,000 new students enrolling annually in Florida public schools. Last year fewer than 30,000 new students ended up enrolling, forcing districts to adjust their budgets; this year, the state expects the number to be about the same.

Blame skyrocketing housing and insurance costs and hurricane activity, say state school officials. And the numbers aren't expected to go up for awhile. According to the forecast at the state's Public School Education Estimating Conference this summer, the student growth rate will remain at a lower level until 2010-11, when the large number of babies born in 2003 through 2005 will begin to enroll. Even then, the numbers aren't expected to be as large as the 65,000 students who poured into Florida in 2004-05.

Is that the picture in our region?

In 2005-06 in Sarasota County, the school district overestimated by more than 1,200 students. "We projected 1,800 would be coming and only 500 to 600 showed up," says Al Weidner, Sarasota County schools budget director. By contrast, two years ago the district had about 1,200 to 1,400 new kids. This year Weidner downsized the projection to 600 new students. "We are downsizing our projections mainly because of [lack of] affordable housing," he says.

Manatee County projected enrollment growth at 520 students compared to the 1,100 to 1,300 the county has experienced the last five years. "We knew something was up when we looked at our numbers from October to February last year," says Tim McGonegal, Manatee's assistant superintendent of business services, who says the district will lose more than $2 million in state dollars due to the fewer number of students. (The county, however, anticipated the shortfall and held money in reserve.)

McGonegal and Weidner say the slowdown in growth is not all bad. "It's good for us on the building side," says Weidner, referring to the district's opportunity to catch up on lagging school construction. But will growth pick up again? McGonegal predicts that the numbers will go up again "in another year or two," once the oversupply of homes is absorbed. And, he says, people adjust. "People will get used to the home prices eventually," he says, "and we've got a lot of affordable housing coming. Twenty-five percent of every new development will have affordable housing."

Weidner, however, isn't sure the numbers will pick up so soon in Sarasota, and that's not necessarily good for the health of the county. It will be at least four years before he thinks student growth will increase. "We don't see job opportunities that will allow people to afford to live here," he says. "Most of our schools told us that parents were saying, 'We can't afford to live here,' referring to housing costs, taxes, insurance, fuel costs and renter costs. It's just common sense. I moved here in 1976 from New Jersey because it was so much cheaper here. If I were to come here today, I'd say, 'No way.'" -Susan Burns


School officials cite the lack of affordable housing as the No. 1 reason student enrollment rates are declining. But housing prices are declining, too. The latest figures from the Florida Association of Realtors reports the sale price of existing, single-family homes in Sarasota-Bradenton declined 11 percent from August 2005 to August 2006 from $347,400 to $309,700.


Business etiquette from national restaurant consultant Judi Gallagher.

I'm confused. When I eat out with co-workers I notice some people tip 15 percent and others 20 percent. What's the standard?

Gratuity is the expression of appreciated service. While many of us still believe that 15 percent gratuity is the correct amount, I remind you that acknowledging good service deserves a cost of living increase as well. Twenty percent in the business world is now the "acceptable" rule. Mind your manners, however; always tip on the original amount before a discount is given on the check.


Hey, Coach!

Chamber prez Steve Queior got his start as a teacher and wrestling coach.

Interviewed by Abby Weingarten

Steve Queior, president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, honed his leadership skills in the classroom. He taught high school English and science, and coached college wrestling. Before moving to Sarasota three years ago, Queior headed the St. Joseph County, Ind., and Greater Fort Lauderdale chambers of commerce. Recently he was named top Chamber Professional of the Year by the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals.

"Being a teacher and a coach introduced me to a lot of things I still utilize. When I first got out of college, I taught 11th grade English and was assistant wrestling coach at Colgate University. I also taught chemistry, physics and biology.

"The teaching was interesting because you had to organize information for other people's consumption, and everyone would absorb that information in a different way. There was a little bit of authority involved. If you could make something interesting and stimulating, it was much more productive for the students.

"The coaching was interesting because it was more of a hands-on leadership opportunity, where you would try to activate people's energy and reinforce their continuous improvement from year to year in their athletic careers.

"The fact that a college wrestling team with talented people from all over the country related to me as their leader was an 'aha' point for me. It's kind of cool that these people will follow your example or rise to the challenge based on your encouragement. On the other hand, it conveys a strong level of responsibility, so you can't let these people down. Being a teacher and a coach gave me an opportunity to see what being a leader is all about."

Business Calendar

NOV. 1 Greater Sarasota Chamber "Good Morning, Greater Sarasota!" 7:30 a.m. at Unisource Commercial Interiors, 2034 Harvard St. Free for members, $5 for nonmembers. Register online at

NOV. 4 Siesta Key Chamber "An Evening in Casablanca" at the Siesta Key Beach pavilion. Music, food, auction and more. $50. Call 349-3800.

NOV. 6 Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County investor update breakfast. 7:45 a.m. at Heron Creek Golf & Country Club, 3401 S Sumter Blvd, North Port. Teri Hansen of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice will speak on business climate issues. Sponsored by Kimley-Horn and Associates. $20 for EDC investors, $25 for future investors. Call 309-1200 ext. 203.

NOV. 8 Sun Coast Industry Expo presented by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County and the Economic Development Council, Manatee Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Sarasota Manatee Area Manufacturers Association. A business-to-business expo for manufacturers and related suppliers from throughout Florida. Noon to 6 p.m. at the Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center. Call Ronnie Meurs, (941) 309-1200 ext. 203 or Lauren Kratsch, (941) 748-4842 ext. 134.

NOV. 15 Greater Sarasota Chamber Chamber U Small Business Success Series Workshop, "Taking Your Business Global." 8 a.m. at Michael's on East, 1212 East Ave. S. $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Business Card Exchange 5 to 7 p.m. at A Paradise Realty, 5201 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, Free. Call 778-1541 for information.

NOV. 16 Tri-Chamber Business Connections sponsored by Sarasota, Manatee and Venice chambers at 5 p.m. at the Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center, 8005 15th St. E. $5 for members, $15 for nonmembers. RSVP's not required.

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