Monday, September 25, 2023

New School Boundaries Under Review, Boca Brightline Breaks Ground & More

Only in Boca Raton could the opening of a new school become so controversial before the school even has a name.

That would be O5C, the elementary school that will open this fall on Military Trail near Spanish River Boulevard. Superintedent Mike Burke must recommend a boundary for the school, which is designed primarily to relieve crowding at Calusa Elementary roughly two miles away.

Deciding who attends O5C affects as many as four other elementary schools in Boca Raton. Most notably, some children who now attend Calusa will go to the new school. Last week, during the second meeting of the school district’s advisory boundary committee on this issue, some parents continued to complain about the staff’s plan. It generally sent children living east of St. Andrews Boulevard to O5C and children living west of St. Andrews to Calusa.

Critics made two points. They argued that St. Andrews was a poor choice for a border and would break up neighborhoods and friendships. They also claimed that the great majority of Calusa students would come from gated communities and higher-income, single-family homes, while the great majority of O5C students would come from multi-family neighborhoods.

So district staff worked up two more plans. Along with the original, boundary committee members will discuss them during their meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday. If there’s no resolution, a fourth meeting might take place on Feb. 10.

Jason Link is the district’s enrollment and boundaries manager. Last week, he told me that staff proposed more “compact boundaries” in the new plans. Link also made clear, however, that the most important priority is “capacity”—how many students attend which school, to ease crowding. Another key goal is to shorten the distance from home to school.

Income, Link said, “is not a factor.” In addition, the “types of (housing) units don’t matter.” The new plans seek to address that question of more compact boundaries. The plans extend the O5C boundaries more to the northeast.

The staff, however, only can tinker so much. The goal is to make sure that neither O5C or any of the other elementary schools—Addison Mizner, Boca Raton, Calusa, J.C. Mitchell and Verde—is overcrowded. “You reach a point,” Link said, beyond which the district cannot satisfy every parent.

Example: Planners will try to allow some fifth-graders to stay at the same campus next fall for their last year of elementary school. But some parents of third-graders want their children to remain for another two years.

Link hopes that the staff can get a proposed boundary plan to the school board by late February or early March for discussion. Burke can make changes to what comes from the committee. Board members can make changes to what Burke proposes, though that would amount to unusual micromanaging.

A decision must come fairly soon. District officials are crafting budgets for next year. The new principal at O5C needs to know which students are coming.

Oh, and the school needs a name.

Brightline breaks ground

Brilghtline at West Palm Beach

Brightline breaks ground today on the Boca Raton station. The event will be the latest milestone in a process that began in mid-2019.

At that point, the company was known as VirginTrains USA as part of its alliance with Richard Branson’s travel empire. That business relationship is gone, but the company’s plans for private rail service in Florida remain ambitious.

By the end of this year, Brightline expects to have completed the link between Cocoa Beach and Orlando. Test runs begin soon on the stretch between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach. Plans continue for service between Orlando and Tampa.

Being part of that network was a key selling point nearly three years ago when Brightline approached the city at the request of Mayor Scott Singer. Boca Raton is paying roughly $10 million toward the cost of the parking garage. Brightline is paying for the station. They will be east of the downtown library. Public parking spaces lost to construction will be reserved in the garage for library patrons.

According to a news release, the project will be done this year. I emailed a company representative about a possible date for the beginning of service in Boca Raton, but I did not get a response by deadline for this post.

Though some supporters of the station touted it as a “game-changer” for Boca Raton, there’s general agreement that the city will need a way for passengers to get from the station to downtown. Some council members have suggested that Boca Raton try to get money from the federal infrastructure bill for a pedestrian walkover.

If I get responses from Brightline to my questions, I’ll relay them. The groundbreaking takes place at 10 a.m.

Automated parking?

Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels

Meeting on Monday as the community redevelopment agency, Boca Raton City Council members discussed an ordinance about downtown parking. But the discussion did not go as planned.

The agenda item was approval of a plan to allow automated parking in garages. The proposal came from Councilwoman Monica Mayotte. As chairwoman of the CRA, Mayotte runs the meetings of the agency that oversees downtown.

But Mayotte implied that an email late Friday from the staff left her unprepared to talk about the ordinance. Her comments led to an hourlong discussion that included a denial from City Manager Leif Ahnell that the staff had tried to undercut the idea.

I’ll have more about this in my Thursday post.

Latson appealing to Florida Supreme Court

Former Spanish River High school Principal William Latson, photo courtesy of SDPBC

Former Spanish River High School Principal William Latson has appealed his firing to the Florida Supreme Court.

In 2019, Latson emailed a parent to say that he could not, as a school district employee, attest to the truth of Holocause. The school board, however, fired him for failing to communicate properly after the email became public.

An administrative law judge stated that the board should reverse that decision. The board did, prompting criticism even harsher than after the story broke. So the board reversed the reversal and fired Latson again.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled against Latson. His attorney argues that the Florida Supreme Court should intervene because the board illegally ignored the administration law judge’s finding. The high court has not said whether it will accept the case for review.

Ocean Strand site plan on the docket

At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will consider a site plan from the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District for Ocean Strand. The district wants to create a passive park on the roughly 15 acres that are just south of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Mayor Scott Singer made his feelings known at the end of Monday’s workshop meeting. Noting that the park would be nearly a mile from the nearest condos, Singer wondered why there would be no parking. How will anyone get there?

Singer noted that the district has “done nothing” with the property despite owning it for more than 20 years. Though district officials have stated that this plan is just the beginning, Singer said another 20 years could pass with no changes.

City Attorney Diana Frieser advised other council members not to comment on Singer’s comment. Doing so, she said, could violated the quasi-judicial nature of the site plan item because council members aren’t supposed to announce their positions in advance. Which seems to be what Singer did.

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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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