Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Boca School Overcrowding Has a Plan, the Delray CRA Agenda and Other Items of News and Note

Every parent, teacher and student surely was happy to see this school year end. With summer break here, schools can talk about security in the abstract, not reality.

All that focus on safety, though, might distract from what has been a remarkable run for Boca Raton on education. If only the state doesn’t slow it down.

Consider how much the city’s position on public schools has improved in the last few months. Boca Raton moved quickly to snag a new elementary school—known for now as 05C—that had been scheduled for a site farther west and north. A developer suddenly couldn’t donate land. The city donated 15 acres next to Don Estridge Middle on Spanish River Boulevard.

That coup solved the Addison Mizner/Verde Elementary problem. Money from the sales tax surcharge will finance rebuilds of both schools, but construction at Addison Mizner’s current site would have required sending the students to the old Verde for 18 months while Verde students attended the new campus. The resulting traffic would have choked that area west of Town Center Mall.

Now students will attend 05C while the new Addison Mizner is under construction. Superintendent Donald Fennoy declared that the school would stay at its Southwest 12th Avenue location. It will continue to be a civic and community anchor for Boca Square area and will remain one of the district’s few true neighborhood schools.

Addison Mizner also will add six, seventh and eighth grades, which will relieve crowding at Boca Raton Middle School to the north. It’s one of the district’s most crowded middle schools. The new Verde also be K-8. 05C will open as an elementary school, but with the capacity to add middle school grades if needed.

Finally, money from the sales tax surcharge also will finance expansions at Spanish River and Olympic Heights high schools. The added capacity will allow the school district to shift students from Boca Raton High, which is roughly 500 students over capacity.

05C and Verde are scheduled to open in time for the 2020 academic year. The new Addison Mizner could open during the 2021-22 year, depending on how work at 05C proceeds. That’s where the state comes in.

Frank Barbieri is the Palm Beach County School Board member who represents Boca Raton. Districts must get state approval before construction projects start, just as the state must approve any new school. That degree of state control came as a surprise to some city council members and most critics who claim that the council hasn’t done enough to ease school crowding.

As of last week, according to Barbieri, the state had not approved 05C or the Spanish River project.

“They’ve been giving us every excuse in the book,” Barbieri told me. “The wrong address, this and that.”

Barbieri remains hopeful that approval will come in time for the district to meet its schedule.

The work won’t end soon enough to please some of the harshest critics. In a relatively short time, however, there has been great progress toward relieving the problem of crowded schools in Boca Raton.

Boca High spruce-up

As the school district plans to make Boca Raton High less crowded, the campus will get a quicker makeover.

This summer, the district will spend $425,000 to prettify the campus. First will come roof repairs. Then the buildings will get power washed and painted. The project will remove those moldy looking streaks.

Police in schools: update

With the school district unable to have one of its own police officers on every campus by August, the plan is to work out agreements with cities to fill the gap.

I had reported that Sheriff Ric Bradshaw didn’t like the district’s proposal to use deputies. So Boca Raton and other cities that have been using officers on an overtime basis will get compensated, starting in the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Compensation will be based on officers’ salaries and benefits. District officials would like to base the formula on midrange compensation. Under a new state law, at least one officer must be at every school. Boca Raton has been assigning officers to elementary schools, which have fewer problems. The district prefers to have its own school resource officers at high schools and middle schools.

Barbieri prefers having a separate school district police department because officers are specially trained for the work. Because of the new law, Barbieri said, some large counties that have contracted with local law enforcement may create their own departments.

Palm Beach County’s school police job is vacant. Barbieri and his colleagues will choose a chief before the school year starts on Aug. 13.

Old School Square

oldschoolsquareSchool_building_webOld School Square got its advance last week from the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.

The organization wanted $200,000 that otherwise might not have come until this fall. According to Vice Chairman Elise Johnson, the infusion will enable the board to “restructure” and adjust to life after CEO Rob Steele’s resignation a month ago.

According to a memo from Old School Square, the organization will save money by, among other things, ending free Sunday admission at Cornell Museum, cutting one position at the Creative Arts School, “adjusting” staff at Crest Theater, eliminating other jobs and doing marketing in-house, rather than hire a contractor.

The request got no opposition from the CRA board—the commission plus the two appointed members. Mayor/Chair Shelly Petrolia called Old School Square “our Central Park.”

Johnson and Gray

It was interesting to hear Delray Beach City Commissioner Shirley Johnson tout her campaign manager, Angeleta Gray, as a credible advocate for the city’s northwest and southwest neighborhoods. Johnson nominated Gray to serve on the community redevelopment agency board.

In 2014, as her commission term wound down, Gray voted to approve a bailout for the former owners of the Auburn Trace housing complex in the southwest neighborhood. The city’s chief financial officer strongly opposed the deal. More important, residents of Auburn Trace and others who lived nearby spoke against it.

Yet Gray voted for it. So did Adam Frankel, who returned to the commission last March. The commission later rescinded the deal and approved a replacement that left Auburn Trace better and brought the city $4 million. Gray’s vote seems to be forgotten—or just ignored.

And Equity Delray, The Sequel?

The next meeting of the Delray Beach Commission/CRA will be a big one.

On July 10, the CRA board likely will decide on a developer for the three CRA-owned blocks next to the Fairfield Inn. The CRA picked Equity Delray for the mixed-use project in 2013, but terminated the purchase agreement after three years when the company was unable to secure financing.

After abolishing the independent CRA, the commission quickly moved to give Equity a do-over. Mayor Shelly Petrolia led the charge. But the CRA agreed to hear other proposals. Those came in this week.

At Ryan Boylston’s urging, the commission/CRA will hold a workshop to discuss all the proposals. That meeting has not been scheduled. It will be interesting to hear the comments of the CRA’s two non-commission board members. Petrolia and Adam Frankel, another Equity cheerleader, nominated them. Despite Equity’s previous failure, Petrolia, Frankel and Shirley Johnson are pushing hard for that do-over.

Boca City Council vs. Beach and Park District

The agenda for the July 23 meeting between the Boca Raton City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District just got longer.

At Monday’s workshop meeting, the council heard a presentation on uses of the city’s and district’s parks. The issue was about use by residents and non-residents. Boca Raton residents, for example, pay taxes to both agencies and use all of the parks. District residents don’t pay city taxes but use the city’s parks.

According to the presentation, 36 percent of participants in youth sports programs don’t live in the city or the district. This issue has arisen before, always generating strong emotions, but there are issues about wear and tear on the fields and opportunities for children.

The July 23 meeting already was going to feature the district asking for money toward renovation of the former Ocean Breeze golf course. The resident/non-resident issue will take up even more time. No wonder there’s a push for quarterly meetings.

No control over Boca Bash

Boca Raton City Council members heard confirmation last week that there’s almost nothing they can do to control what happens at Boca Bash.

The council asked to discuss the boating/booze event, which organizers hold each year on Lake Boca Raton, after a participant drowned this year. Councilman Jeremy Rodgers asked whether it would make a difference if the city itself hosted the event.

Nope, said Police Chief Dan Alexander. It’s not who, it’s where. The lake is outside the city’s jurisdiction.

So the city will try to ask the organizers if they can make the event safer. Council members worry that even though the city isn’t part of Boca Bash, the name links the event to the city.

Weinroth fundraising

Robert Weinroth
Robert Weinroth

Robert Weinroth’s fundraising for his Palm Beach County Commission campaign keeps getting stronger.

In May, Weinroth had another record month. He raised $31,000, giving him a total of roughly $113,000. Weinroth, a Democrat, dropped his campaign for a second term on the Boca Raton City Council to run for Seat 4, which includes Boca Raton and most of Delray Beach.

Republicans have held the seat since it was created as part of the switch in 1990 to single-member districts and expansion of the commission to seven members. Weinroth, though, has name recognition in Boca Raton—which makes up about 45 percent of the swing district—and Democrats hope for a strong anti-Trump turnout.

Weinroth’s contributions include $1,000 from Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District Executive Director Art Koski and $250 from Boca Raton Regional Hospital CEO Jerry Fedele. He also got $2,000 from Florida Crystals, one of the two largest Everglades sugar growers, and $2,500 from Ron Book, one of the most prominent lobbyists in Tallahassee. Book also lobbies in Palm Beach County. His daughter, Lauren Book, is a state senator.

Moms Demand Action

Here’s a final thought about the Moms Demand Action rally in Boca Raton.

I took note of the sponsors. They included, in addition to Boca magazine, Trader Joe’s, Office Depot, Orangetheory Fitness, Einstein Bagel’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Chick-fil-A. Those are some of this area’s and the nation’s most prominent companies.

The campaign against gun violence has gone corporate. Because these companies and many others are lending their names, there may be hope of overcoming the extremists and finding common ground that makes South Florida and the country safer.

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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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