Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Delray Schools Do Not Make the Grade(s), Alina Moves Forward, and a Tennis Star Is Born

School grades in Florida mean nothing.

And they mean everything.

The public school grading system is entering its third decade. The Legislature has altered it several times, at least once because so many schools were going to look bad. The grades often reflect more about the affluence of the students and the level of parent involvement than they do about the ability of the faculty.

Yet everybody pays attention to the grades, from elected officials to real estate agents. So it mattered Friday when the 2019 grades came out and Banyan Creek Elementary* was the only school in Delray Beach to get an A— its third in a row—and Orchard View Elementary was the only school to get a B. All the others got a C. It mattered even more because every school in Boca Raton got an A. J.C. Mitchell and Boca Raton elementary schools moved up from a B. Even the two high schools outside the city, Olympic Heights and West Boca, were A-rated for last year.

The trend lines also were discouraging for Delray Beach. Seven years ago, Atlantic High School—with its International Baccalaureate program—got the first of what would be three straight ‘A’ grades. Then came three years of a ‘B.’ Now Atlantic has slipped again. Spady Elementary has followed a similar pattern. Nearly a decade ago, Carver Middle got an ‘A.’ Enrollment also is dropping at some schools.

Delray Beach Commissioner Ryan Boylston

“It does matter,” acknowledged Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Boylston, who previous served on the city’s education committee. Though Delray Beach is the only city to have had such a group over many years, Boylston said the distinction doesn’t matter unless it produces results.

One obvious difference is that Delray Beach has pockets of poverty that Boca Raton doesn’t have. Another difference, though, is political.

School board members run from single-member districts, not countywide. Frank Barbieri’s district includes Boca Raton and West Boca, and nothing else. Elected officials in Boca Raton will tell you that Barbieri is everywhere on matters related to the city’s schools.

Sometimes that exclusivity is a hassle. Last week, Barbieri had to deal with the controversy at Spanish River High School over the former principal’s bizarre refusal to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened. Barbieri also had to deal with it from his role as board chairman.

Two board members, however, represent Delray Beach. Based on boundaries similar to those for the county commission, Erica Whitfield has the more affluent areas while Debra Robinson has the poorer, heavily minority sections of the city.

Boylston acknowledges that both members are dedicated. “But they have different visions,” he said. “They can’t collaborate” because of the Sunshine Law that forbids two members of an elected body from discussing business outside of an announced meeting.

Since no one wants to discuss changing the boundaries, Boylston said, “We need to find some way to be the squeaky wheel. We don’t need tweaks. We need much more than that.”

Delray Beach’s goal of drawing more middle-class families depends largely on making the schools more attractive to such families. As I said, grades can be deceptive. Boylston’s children attend Plumosa School of the Arts, which dropped from a B to a C.

He said, “I know how much better that school is than the grade.”

But outsiders don’t know that. Boylston wants the city to put up money for the schools and to raise money that would go to the city schools. We spoke at midday Friday. Several hours later, he texted to say, “I’ve spoken to a few principals, and we are putting together a task force.”

That group, Boylston said Monday, would include principals at Delray Beach’s schools, Janet Meeks—the city’s education coordinator—and “at least one person from the business community. We’ll go around the table and ask, ‘What’s it going to take?’”

* We previously reported that no schools in Delray Beach recieved an A. We regret the error.

Haynie trial on track

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

As of Monday, the public corruption case against former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie remains on track for a trial this fall.

Bruce Zimet, who represents Haynie, said after Monday’s hearing that he expects the trial to start “in October or November.” On Friday, in advance of the hearing, prosecutors filed new documents adding Leonard Berger to the witness list and seeking more of Haynie’s financial records and minutes of five city council meetings.

The seven charges against Haynie allege that she illegally voted for projects that benefited James and Marta Batmasian of Investments Limited and failed to disclose income that she received from the Batmasians.

Berger is an assistant county attorney. Zimet said prosecutors intend to call him as an expert witness on the county ethics law that Haynie allegedly violated. Haynie had secured an opinion from the ethics commission that she says allowed her to vote. Prosecutors contend that Haynie’s votes fell outside the scope of the amendment.

Delray tax rate

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

The Delray Beach City Commission chose the lowest of three options for next year’s property tax rate, but residents still may pay more.

Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus said the commission could keep the current rate of $6.76 per $1,000 of assessed value, drop it to $6.66, or raise it to $6.86. The high option, de Jesus said, would give administrators the most “flexibility” as they compile the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

But the commission went low. Boylston said the immediate priority is “stability at City Hall,” not spending. The commission hopes to pick a permanent manager next month. He or she mostly will inherit whatever current management puts together.

Despite that tiny, symbolic rate cut, tax bills for most Delray Beach residents will increase. Property values increased 6.6 percent over last year, far more than the one-tenth of one percent drop in the tax rate.

One-year freeze on CBD stores

It was not surprising last week when the Delray Beach City Commission approved a one-year moratorium on that sell cannabidiol (CBD) products.

CBD is part of the cannabis plant, but it does not contain the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. Hemp oil, however, has become a booming business. Advocates claim countless medical benefits, from cancer treatment to easing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Health officials and others are less sure. They note that CBD, like any supplement, does not undergo government scrutiny like prescription drugs. Given the focus on hemp as a potentially major industry, however, governments are trying to determine how to regulate CBD.

According to a memo from City Attorney Lynn Gelin, the moratorium will “allow the city a sufficient period of time to review and develop regulations” for CBD retailers. The Legislature this year passed a bill designed to set state regulation of the hemp industry, so Delray Beach likely will want to see how city rules would align with Tallahassee’s action.

Given Delray Beach’s opioid issues, successive commissions have been reluctant to approve anything that might seem related, even if CBD is non-euphoric. The city also has banned medical marijuana dispensaries, and the commission shows no sign of wanting to revisit the ban.

Meanwhile, a Boca Raton spokeswoman said Monday that Development Services Director Brandon Schaad will present to the city council at its meeting next month a proposed ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries. Newer council members seem inclined to end the city’s ban. The spokeswoman said Schaad also would address CBD shops.

ALINA moves forward

ALINA rendering

El-Ad National Properties last week announced the closing on a $146 million construction loan for the first phase of the ALINA condominium in downtown Boca Raton. The project is on Southeast Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place.

According to the news release, the financing came from Deutsche Bank and Israel-based Bank Hapoalim. The first phase will include 121 units that cost from $1 million to $6 million. El-Ad expects construction to be complete at the end of next year.

An El-Ad representative said the project has been “well received,” but the company did not release figures on sales. In January, the community redevelopment agency allowed El-Ad to build the project, which began as Mizner 200, in two phases. The first is on the north end of what had been the Mizner on the Green rental complex. The second phase would have 263 units.

Coco update

Cori “Coco” Gauff in 2017 (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

Here’s more information about Delray Beach’s Cori “Coco” Gauff, who stole the show during the first week of Wimbledon.

She won $220,000 for dispatching three opponents, including former Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. Her world ranking went from 313th to 139th. The British Broadcasting Corporation TV ratings for Gauff’s third match, when she came from behind to defeat Polona Hercog, were roughly 50 percent higher than for the second-most watched match of the first week. That one involved eight-time champion Roger Federer.

Sports Illustrated also reported that only four other players before Gauff had reached the fourth round of a major tournament before the age of 16. Three of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

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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