Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Boca Enrollment Numbers Are in—and We’re Still Tight

No complaints, please.

Few aspects of South Florida life annoy me more than gripes from people who prepare for a hurricane that eventually goes elsewhere or just brushes the area. Are they mad because they believe that they did all that work for nothing?

Like many recent storms, Dorian befuddled forecasters for days. The initial track took the storm into the Space Coast. Then it shifted south, with the center at one point bound for northern Palm Beach County. But much like Matthew in 2016, a wobble to the north near the coast took Dorian away from Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

Both cities had been preparing. Mayors Scott Singer and Shelly Petrolia sent out emails on Friday. Each opened its emergency operations center on Sunday, though Boca Raton did so just partially while waiting for updates. At one point, a hurricane warning extended south to Lantana. All the preparation was justified, especially given Dorian’s power.

So don’t blame cities, counties and school districts for assuming the worst. Be grateful that any disruption was temporary. Stay on guard. We remain in the heart of hurricane season. And help the Bahamians.

Aid underway for Bahamas

That relief effort for the Abacos and Grand Bahama is impressive already and will need to stay that way. The public and private response in South Florida began immediately.

Like other private companies, IPIC is participating. The company’s theaters in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Aventura will collect donations of everything from tents to baby formula to solar chargers. Perhaps those Delray Beach residents who never liked the company’s project—and have been dancing on IPIC’s grave since the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings—might want to reconsider their glee.

Enrollment numbers     

Enrollment numbers are out for Palm Beach County schools. For Boca Raton, the numbers on crowding are encouraging but nothing to rave about yet.

Boca Raton High, whose parents have complained for years about crowding, is at 109 percent of capacity. That’s according to the 11-day count that the school district just released. For perspective, Boca High was at 122 percent two years ago.

After those complaints, school and district officials began checking for students who weren’t eligible to attend Boca High. The program got results and is continuing, but the new count still shows the school at 402 students over capacity.

Calusa, in northwest Boca Raton, also remains one of the county’s most overcrowded elementary schools. It’s at 127 percent capacity, which is only a slight decline from the 129 percent level of two years ago. Verde Elementary is down to 111 percent after hitting 114 percent two years ago.

Boca Raton Middle School is 128 students over, practically unchanged from the 11-day count in 2017. Omni Middle actually is more crowded. Two years ago, it was at capacity. This year, it’s at 111 percent. Most other traditional schools in Boca Raton are slightly under capacity or just over. Don Estridge Middle uses a lottery and doesn’t have boundaries.

Relief is coming. Rebuilt Verde and Addison Mizner elementaries will add middle schools. A new elementary school next to Estridge Middle will help Calusa and Verde. Parents, however, surely wish the relief would come sooner. Good public schools continue to draw families to Boca Raton.

But in Delray…   

For Delray Beach, however the trend of under-capacity schools continues.

Carver—the only middle school in the city—can hold 1,534 students. Only 935 attend. Orchard View Elementary is at 76 percent and Pine Grove Elementary is at just 63 percent. Plumosa, Spady and Banyan Creek elementaries are healthier. All are between 87 and 85 percent. Atlantic High School is at 90 percent capacity. It could add nearly 250 students.

Dorian holds up city manager contract

Michael Cernech

The focus on Dorian will delay action by the Delray Beach City Commission on a contract with Michael Cernech.

After choosing Cernech last month to be permanent city manager, the commission hoped that a contract could be ready by today’s meeting. But the item is not on the agenda. On Friday, Cernech will meet with City Attorney Lynn Gelin to “button things up” on the proposed contract, according to City Commissioner Ryan Boylston. If things go smoothly, the soonest the commission could approve a contract would be the Sept. 17 meeting.

The commission, though, today still will hold the first of two required hearings on the budget and tax rate. Though the rate will decline a tiny amount, most residents will pay more because property values have risen. The general fund budget—which finances police, fire, parks and other basic services—will rise $600,000 to about $140 million. The overall budget—which includes fee-based water and sewer along with debt services—will be about $229 million.

Delray storm fixes

Even though Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Keys, two years ago, Delray Beach’s emergency operations center still leaked. The city also nearly faced a sewer shutdown when there weren’t enough generators to power all the lift stations. It was embarrassing on both counts.

Delray Beach has fixed the generator problem. And on the agenda for today’s commission meeting is a request to negotiate a contract for the new fire station and emergency operations center. The city gave the contract to Broward-based Gulf Building, but only after controversy.

Purchasing officials ranked Delray Beach-based Kauffman Lynn first among the seven bidders last April. According to the staff memo, however, Gulf Building—which had come in second—protested the award. The purchasing director and city attorney rejected the protest, after which Gulf appealed the decision to Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus.

Four months later, de Jesus granted the appeal and gave the award to Gulf Building “in the city’s best interest.” Negotiations on the contract would come next. The item is on the consent agenda. Given that back story, one or more of the commissioners might want more details.

Boca vs. FEMA update

Here’s one more hurricane-related item.

I have written recently about the dispute between Boca Raton and the Federal Emergency Management Agency over $4.6 million in reimbursement costs that the city submitted after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. City officials in Florida have complained for years about what they consider FEMA’s changing rules and lengthy review process.

A new policy won’t help Boca Raton in that fight, but it could speed reviews of smaller expenses—and thus reimbursement. Politico reported this week that the agency will allow requests of less than $1 million from governments in Florida to avoid one step in the process. The Florida Division of Emergency Management worked out the deal.

Not coincidentally, the state’s emergency management director is a former city official. Jared Moskowitz served on the city commission in Parkland and later represented that part of Broward County in the Florida Legislature. He also worked for one of the largest private debris collection firms. So he knows about hurricane reimbursement from every angle.

Singer launches campaign 

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer

Boca Raton’s elections aren’t until March and Mayor Scott Singer has no announced opponent. Still, he’s officially starting his campaign for a full term with a Sept. 26 reception at Loch Bar at 5:30 p.m.

Singer won the August 2018 special election to fill the term of Susan Haynie, whom then-Gov. Rick Scott suspended after she was charged with seven counts of public corruption. So he could serve two, three-year terms.

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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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