How Boca Raton Got Lucky on Schools, and Decisions on Camino Square, Alina?

boca schools

It’s hard to overstate Boca Raton’s good fortune as the year closed.

One of outgoing Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s last acts was to approve the proposed elementary school next to Don Estridge Middle. The Palm Beach County School District had applied for state approval several months ago, but the state had delayed a decision as district officials pressed their case.

The school had been planned for a location farther north. When GL Homes withdrew its offer of land, however, Boca Raton offered the roughly acres near Spanish River Boulevard and Military Trail. Though money for construction was in the district budget, Florida’s system requires state approval.

If Stewart had let the decision go into 2019, Boca Raton likely would have lost the school. Stewart’s successor is ex-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. In the Legislature, Corcoran rammed through a spending bill that for the first time diverted construction money from traditional public schools to charter schools. Corcoran’s policies were hostile to the traditional system that still educates 90 percent of Florida’s public school students.

The school board approved the new elementary school—known as 05C—based on well-documented crowding within Boca Raton. But state officials pointed out that space was available in existing schools outside the city—as far away as Boynton Beach and Lantana. Why not just bus Boca students there?

Boca Raton City Council members, however, have all but assured their constituents that city students will attend schools within the city. In late 2016, the district suggested moving Boca students outside the city to relieve crowding at Calusa Elementary in the booming northwest. Council members resisted, and the board finally approved a complicated but politically acceptable alternative that involved shifting about 330 students.

School board member Frank Barbieri represents Boca Raton and West Boca. He said the district finally persuaded the state board that “growth projections” showed the need for the elementary school at the Boca Raton site. Though the district has been gaining students, the growth is in pockets. One of those is Boca Raton, where many young families have bought homes from older Baby Boomers.

The district will build 05C as a traditional elementary school, from kindergarten through fifth grade. But the plan will make it “easy to add on” middle school grades, Barbieri said, if growth requires it. That would mean going back to the state for a second approval.

Work on the new school will start soon and take place in phases. That schedule will allow it to open as soon as possible after Verde and Addison Mizner students attend class in portables during construction of those schools.

Even with 05C only as an elementary, however, in about five years all schools in Boca Raton may be at or under capacity, not over. Though 05C will help, the main factor will be the sales tax surcharge that voters approved in 2016. It is financing new Addison Mizner and Verde elementary schools that will have middle school grades, thus easing crowding at Boca Raton Middle. The surcharge will pay for expansions at Spanish River and Olympic Heights high schools that will reduce the population at Boca Raton High. 05C will help the crunch at Calusa.

The overcrowding could have been avoided if the Republican-led Legislature had allowed school districts their normal financing over the last decade. Since the state did so much to cause Boca Raton’s problem, it is more than fitting that the state finally do a little something to solve it.

Boca High

(Photo by John Schnobrich)

Speaking of public schools, here’s an irony.

Boca Raton High has become overcrowded because its enhanced reputation has attracted students of parents who might otherwise send their children to a private school. In terms of graduation rate, however, Boca High trails other area schools.

According to new figures from the state, Boca High graduated 93 percent of its students last year. That’s very good, and it’s several points above the county, state and national averages.

But the rate at Olympic Heights—which is just outside Boca Raton—was 99 percent. The rate at Spanish River was 98 percent. At Atlantic High in Delray Beach, 97 percent of students graduated. West Boca, which also is in the county, had a rate of 96 percent.

Upcoming Boca CRA meeting

Camino Square

It could be a very long meeting Monday of the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency.

One item is Camino Square, the residential-retail project proposed for the shopping center on Camino Real west of the FEC railroad tracks that a Winn-Dixie once anchored. It would have 350 apartments.

The staff recommends approval. Some residents of the large Camino Gardens neighborhood just to the west, however, may object because of traffic worries. Everyone agrees that the abandoned plaza needs something. The question will be whether Camino Square is too much.

Regarding traffic, developers Kimco and Florida Crystals have agreed to add another turn lane at Camino Real and Southwest Third Avenue “at the prodding of staff,” according to the backup material. The developers also have proposed a roundabout for the busy intersection of Camino Real and Southwest Second Avenue. City planners will discuss the roundabout during the presentation. The staff memo says that Camino Gardens wants the roundabout.

The other item is the request by Elad Properties to build the 384-unit Alina condo project in two phases. Alina would be across Mizner Boulevard from Royal Palm Place.

After much discussion at the December meeting, the CRA—Andy Thomson dissenting—voted to postpone a decision to this month. According to the staff memo, the city and Elad have agreed on some issues, but not all. Most of the issues concern Townsend Place—the condo on the south side of the Alina site—and the worries of some residents that Elad might not build the second phase.

Elad first sought this change to the development approval a year ago. After the postponement, the company’s lawyer said—in essence—that denial or another delay could result in a lawsuit.

Old polo grounds to expand again

What once was Royal Palm Polo may become a slightly larger subdivision.

Homebuilder Toll Brothers owns the roughly 120-acre site near Jog and Clint Moore roads and has developed part of it. At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board will hear a request from Toll to build 256 single-family homes, up from the approved 245, and to shrink the lot widths. The company previously got permission to go from 223 homes to 245. The staff recommends approval. County officials say the change would meet traffic performance standards.

In 2013, the property became part of Boca Raton through a voluntary annexation. There was no controversy about the move. Three side of the property still border on unincorporated neighborhoods.

Oklahoma oil man John Oxley brought polo to the site in 1977. Royal Palm Polo was the top facility in the county until development began moving closer and more top teams began leaving for Wellington and Martin County.

Royal Palm Polo closed in 2008, 12 years after John Oxley died. The Tom Oxley Athletic Center at Florida Atlantic University is named for John Oxley’s son, an FAU grad who died in 2009. Father and son were a formidable polo team back in the day.

Local politico in center of storm

With Democrats taking control of the U.S. House today, Rep. Ted Deutch could be in the middle of events concerning the House and President Trump.

Deutch serves on the Judiciary Committee. Through it would run any articles of impeachment, as happened when the Republican-led House impeached Bill Clinton in 1998. Though some incoming Democrats and at least one of the party’s megadonors want the House to move hard on impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and party leaders have made no commitment beyond investigating the president’s business dealings.

More likely for the Judiciary Committee will be its role in the report by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. There is debate over whether all of the report can become public. The committee would hold that debate.

DeSantis transition

Meanwhile in Tallahassee, the Legislature will hold committee meetings next week tied to the Tuesday swearing-in of Gov.-Elect Ron DeSantis and other members of the Florida Cabinet.

Republican Michael Caruso is the new House member representing District 89, which includes Boca Raton and parts of Delray Beach. Caruso drew assignments to some notable committees, such as those dealing with insurance and banking, higher education and utilities.

But Caruso will not serve on the State Affairs Committee, from which legislation affecting community redevelopment agencies would start. All cities worried about what they considered last year’s attempt by Republicans to infringe on home rule. Delray Beach especially worried about legislation that would have greatly restricted how its CRA could spend money. The regular legislative session begins on March 5.