Thursday, April 18, 2024

Which Kids Can Go To Boca’s Newest Elementary School?

Five years ago, Boca Raton officials fought hard to keep children of city residents at Calusa Elementary School. The school district is talking again about moving students from Calusa, but circumstances are different.

Today at 4 p.m., the district’s advisory boundary committee will discuss who will attend the city’s new, still unnamed elementary school on Military Trail just south of Spanish River Boulevard. The school, which can hold 1,000 students, opens next year.

The district’s plan would shift students from four Boca Raton elementary schools—Addison Mizner, Calusa, J.C. Mitchell and Verde—to the new campus. Students also would move there from Whispering Pines Elementary, which is just outside the city–on Lyons Road between Clint Moore and Yamato roads.

Helping Calusa is the main goal. It is one of the county’s most overcrowded elementary schools. Without any boundary changes, district planners predict that Calusa would be 25 percent over capacity in three years. And that’s with temporary classrooms.

In 2016, the district tried to ease that crowding by moving Boca Raton students to schools outside the city. City council members, showing their parochialism, resisted. They got their way, but Calusa got no relief.

Now, however, there is added capacity within the city, only a couple of miles south of Calusa. But the ripple effects will be citywide. The proposed changes would shift 413 Calusa students to the new school—known currently as O5C—along with 205 from Verde. Another 58 would move from Addison Mizner. J.C. Mitchell would gain seven students.

According to the district, those changes would drop Calusa to just 78 percent of capacity next year and 82 percent in 2024-25. Verde would be at 93 percent next year, the highest capacity of any elementary school in the city. In three years, Addison Mizner would be the highest, at 97 percent. O5C would be at 96 percent and Whispering Pines at 105 percent.

On paper, this plan solves the problem of overcrowded elementary schools in Boca Raton–at least for the next few years. The city reached this position because of money from the sales-tax surcharge and the council’s donation of 15 acres for O5C. It had been planned for a different location outside the city, but the deal for the property fell through. District officials had allocated construction money outside of surcharge revenue.

Some parents, though, may object to the district moving their children. Two of Boca Raton City Councilman Andy Thomson’s children attend Calusa. He lives in Millpond, which would be in the O5C boundary.

Thomson likes the idea of a shorter commute. For some parents, their commutes would decrease by 75 percent under the plan. In addition, fourth-graders would not have to move. They could finish elementary school next year at the same campus.

It might help that schools designed to receive the most students are A-rated. There’s also the appeal of a new campus. Calusa, however popular, was built in 1987.

Thomson, however, said some of his neighbors object to making St. Andrews Boulevard the divide, with students to the west attending Calusa and those on the east going to O5C. They want the boundary to be Jog Road.

Addison Mizner and Verde also are new and are adding middle-school grades. Parents of younger children may resist losing those additional years at the same campus. O5C also is designed to become a K-8 campus, but there are no plans to add those grades.

The commission will send its recommendations to the school board, which must approve boundary changes. There likely will be a second meeting of the committee. That board vote won’t happen until next year.

Former Delray mayors speak up

Eight former Delray Beach mayors have written an open letter to the community, expressing their concern about the current mayor.

The signers range from Doak Campbell, who held the post between 1984 and 1990, to Carey Glickstein, who served from 2013 to 2018. The only name missing is Tom Carney, who was mayor for a few months before Glickstein defeated him.

The letter does not name Shelly Petrolia, the incumbent, but the inference is clear.

“We love our city,” the letter reads, “but we are worried about the direction the current administration is taking. We find our community is divided, unable or unwilling to talk, and we fear that the progress we have made as a community is in danger as a result.”

For these ex-mayors, the flashpoint was the decision last August by Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson to end the lease with Old School Square for the Arts. The letter calls the move “impulsive.”

It happened, the mayors correctly noted, “without a conversation with the organization or input from the city’s diverse stakeholders who deserve a say in its future.” Of Old School Square, the mayors said, “We believe that they are willing to work hard to improve their partnership with the city. As with any long-term relationship, we believe that any problems can be solved with open communication.”

But the letter argues that “the lack of transparency and due process” with Old School Square was not an isolated example. “We see a similar pattern in the general culture of division and polarization in our city politics that has led to costly turnover and litigation.

“We don’t believe this is the ‘Delray Way,’ and, while we may not ever see eye-to-eye on the issues, we risk losing what’s been built if we don’t call a timeout and endeavor to do better as a community.”

The mayors have ideas. They want “a charrette (public forum) to gain public input on the future of Old School Square” and “a process to discuss the culture in Delray Beach so that we can find a better way forward, for everyone.”

The letter ends with these words: “We need to reverse the damage and hurt that has occurred in our town before it is too late.”

OSS lawsuit update

old school square
Cornell Art Museum in Old School Square; photo courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

Citing that letter from the mayors, Old School Square has filed a motion seeking early mediation in its lawsuit against Delray Beach for wrongful termination.

In the filing, Old School Square says the group wants to “extend an olive branch.” Old School Square denies the claim that it has refused to communicate with the city.

The lawsuit names Petrolia, Casale and Johnson, along with Joy Howell, a former Old School Square board chairwoman. Howell wanted more time to file her response. Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes granted Howell’s motion. She must respond by Dec. 20.

Petrolia, Casale, Johnson and City Attorney Lynn Gelin are named as individuals. Kastrenakes also gave them more time to file. They must do so by today. According to the court clerk’s website, they had not done so as of Wednesday afternoon. A separate court filing shows that Casale has switched lawyers.

Palmetto lane closure

A year of hassles awaits drivers on Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton between Interstate 95 and downtown.

The Florida Department of Transportation is rebuilding the bridge over the El Rio Canal, having declared it to be obsolete. Though the bridge is short, it’s at a traffic chokepoint. During construction, there will be just one set of lanes in either direction.

Milan sold

Tricera Capital, a Miami-based private equity firm, has bought The Milan at Town Center, a Class A office building across Military Trail from Boca Center. According to news reports, the price was $20 million. Tricera reportedly plans to upgrade the 15-year-old building.

FAU professor’s appeal denied

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear former Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy’s appeal of his firing.

Tracy wrote blog posts on non-FAU websites suggesting that the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting was faked. University officials, however, said he lost his job for failing to follow policy on work outside of the university. After Tracy lost at trial, the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals also declined to hear his case.

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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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