Friday, February 3, 2023

Boca Gets New Schools, Report on Homelessness in Delray & More

Palm Beach County schools open in less than a month, on the absurdly early date of Aug. 10. In Boca Raton, though, the new year comes with new promise.

Last month came the groundbreaking of a new elementary school next to Don Estridge Middle on Military Trail. It will open for the 2022-23 school year. Next month comes the opening of the new, expanded—with middle school grades—Addison Mizner Elementary. A year ago came the opening of the new, expanded Verde Elementary, also with a middle school.

These projects amount to a massive investment in public education. Credit the 2016 sales tax surcharge, which financed Verde and Addison Mizner, and Boca Raton’s donation of land for the new school, now called 05C. That project was in the school district’s budget, but it had planned for another location before the land suddenly wasn’t available and the city swooped in.

One could argue that public education in Boca Raton would have been in good shape without this spending and that it should have gone to less affluent areas. There is no argument, though, that the city will benefit.

Boca Raton City Councilman Andy Thomson served on the city’s education committee. In an interview, Thomson said he believes that those three projects will have addressed overcrowding in Boca Raton’s elementary and middle schools that became an issue several years ago.

“The high school crowding is still out there,” Thomson said, referring to Boca Raton and Spanish River. Expansion work at Spanish River will help. District officials also have tried to identify “boundary jumpers,” parents who live outside the Boca High boundary but fake addresses to send their children there. That strategy has reduced enrollment.

Nothing, however, is without controversy. Adding capacity will mean shifting boundaries, especially for Calusa, in time for the 2022 year. Only one other elementary school in the county is more crowded.

Frank Barbieri, who represents Boca Raton, is chairman of the Palm Beach County School Board. He told me that the opening of O5C also will affect J.C. Mitchell Elementary’s boundaries. Verde is unlikely to be affected, Barbieri said, because it’s farther south and the school already is absorbing middle school students–sixth grade last year, seventh grade this year and eighth grade in 2022.

Each of the seven board members appoints one member of the Advisory Boundary Committee. It makes recommendations to Superintendent Donald Fennoy, who makes recommendations to the board, which has the final—often controversial—say on boundaries.

Thomson had been Barbieri’s appointee. He resigned because of an obvious conflict. Three of his children will attend Calusa this year. Barbieri said he expects to name a replacement for Thomson by September.

In 2017, the board had to approve new boundaries for Calusa. Boca Raton officials pushed hard to exclude any children outside the city from attending the popular school. But money from outside the city is helping to build these schools. And six other board members may resent Boca Raton getting so much money. One city can’t have it all.

However testy the boundary debate gets, however, Boca Raton’s public schools will become even more of a recruiting tool for families and business owners. Perhaps the spending surge will prompt Delray Beach—which two board members represent—to mount a similar lobbying campaign and give the city its own needed boost.

Report on homelessness in Delray

Delray Beach’s ardent advocate for the homeless believes that he has a success story to tell.

Ezra Krieg, who runs the Delray Beach Initiative to End Homelessness, spoke before the city commission last week. He noted that his last appearance in the chamber had been to oppose the anti-panhandling ordinance that the commission approved.

Krieg then shifted to note the progress his group has made. The 2018 count had found 110 homeless people— Krieg often calls them “unsheltered”—in Delray Beach. This year, the number was 81.

Further, Krieg said, the city is “No. 1” in getting people into the county’s homeless shelter system. That can be difficult, given the resistance some homeless people have to using such facilities.

In his other role, Krieg serves on the board of the Delray Beach Housing Authority. He told commissioners that the agency had secured 30 federal vouchers that could allow people to live rent-free until 2030 if they can find apartments. Three of what he called “the potentially homeless” have been placed. Three are pending. “If you know of any units,” Krieg said, “let us know.”

When he recalled the “spirited conversation” about the ordinance, Krieg especially noted his exchange with Commissioner Adam Frankel. But when Krieg wanted help making 50 COVID-19 vaccine shots available to the homeless, he called Frankel.

The commissioner did not respond, but that’s because the governor’s office did, at Frankel’s request. The homeless got their shots. Krieg cited that as an example of politics not getting personal.

Krieg also properly thanked Ariana Ciancio, the police department’s unique outreach person to those on the streets. His speech served to remind residents that beyond Delray Beach’s destructive factional politics are people working to make the city better.

New COO at Boca Regional

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has hired a new chief operating officer.

Haroula Protopapadakis Norden had been associate administrator at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, where she worked for 15 years. At Boca Regional, she will play a major role in completing the hospital’s makeover and expansion. At Memorial, Norden oversaw construction of a $43 million parking garage.

Boca shooting

Last week saw a rare officer-involved shooting in Boca Raton.

According to a police department news release, officers responded last Thursday evening to reports of a man with a knife near Barnes & Noble. The store is in University Commons, across Glades Road from Florida Atlantic University.

Twenty-nine-year-old Jordan Samuel Thompson, the report said, “began approaching officers aggressively” while carrying the knife. After Thompson refused to drop the weapon, one officer fired a Taser, which was “ineffective,” according to the report.

Thompson then “lunged at the officers with a knife in hand” and was shot “multiple times” by the other officer. The officers “rendered aid” until paramedics took Thompson to the trauma unit at Delray Medical Center, where he remains.

Thompson faces two charges of attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer. Court records in the case are available only on request. I have made one. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting, which is standard procedure. The officers are on paid leave.

Before the incident last week, the most recent officer-involved shooting in Boca Raton was on October 16, 2014.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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