More than a year ago, Boca created an Education Task Force (ETF) to review and report on the status of nine public schools. Chaired by Yvette Drucker, the group was tasked with reviewing capacities, construction (design versus actual), and reasons for overcrowding. Areas investigated were boundary enforcement procedures and needed renovations. They were joined by Frank Barbieri from the Palm Beach County School Board who has turned into a strong advocate and supporter for Boca Raton schools.
According to the task force, two of the three Boca high schools are operating at over capacity. But city wide, overcrowding is led by Verde Elementary at 120% followed by Boca Raton High School at 116%. In total, Boca’s nine schools currently lack thousands of seats for the present student population. Strong population growth is projected in Boca over the next 3 to 5 years. Much of this is expected to be younger families which adds to a sense of urgency to resolve school overcrowding and school safety.
Additional Capacities Planned
In order to address overcrowding the Palm Beach County School Board, with the help of the City of Boca, has identified a parcel of land to construct a new elementary school near Don Estridge middle school. This is designed to accommodate 964 students and currently carries the temporary name of “05C”. In addition, two K-5 schools, Addison Mizner and Verde, will essentially be rebuilt for grades K-8. Another three schools will provide modular components to provide for additional students. No changes to Boca High are planned other than shifting students to the modulars at Spanish River High. Since there is no reliable forecast of needed capacities five years out, the question becomes; will these changes be enough?
Estimating overcrowding is difficult. The principle of “garbage in, garbage out” applies. When you add up all the students in Elementary and Middle School, current overcrowding is in the 1000’s. But when you add up the capacity being planned it accounts for roughly 1696 *additional* seats are being added to elementary and middle schools. The high schools are getting approximately 897 additional seats. Students are being shuffled between schools which presents a great inconvenience for those families affected. Then you have the specter of continued strong residential growth that make the problem worse. It is easy to see why this task force recommended at least a new high school for the city.
The ETF feels strongly that the city needs to ensure developers pay correct impact fees and these dollars are used for Boca schools.
The ETF also reported that verifying addresses “has helped certain schools reduce student population”. That effort improved both Calusa and Boca High by shifting students within Boca to the schools they were supposed to be in. But as far as students living outside Boca Raton goes, the task force reported that effect was minimal. They said “this has not impacted student population”. However, the ETF still recommends address verification be continued.
ETF needs to be extended and focus should be on security issues which is both parents and students major concern. Thankfully, the request for extension has been granted by the City Council.
The city needs to plan for the future by buying what little land is available in Boca this year. Boca definitely needs more schools and it typically takes five years to build a high school from time of acquisition to school opening.
In this regard, the ETF recommended two locations that the city needs to focus on. There is about twenty acres next to the Spanish River Library but the School Board claims they need fifty acres for a new high school. The only location available in the city that meets the size requirement is in the Hidden Valley area which is the former Boca Raton Executive golf course. This is interesting because that parcel may be available for a reasonable price. This is a move the city should consider.
Dedicated and Long Time Advocate
Don Rogers who is a long time advocate for a new high school and was a member of this task force. On February 24 2000, the Boca News published an article he wrote titled “We Deserve Better. Boca High does not meet the needs of the Boca community.” Mr. Rogers is quoted as saying “the need for a new high school is beyond debate”. “The community must fight back.” That resulted in the current campus built in 2002. Nineteen years later, he and the others on the ETF are fighting the battle to get a new High School – Again.
It is obvious that the city must make land acquisition for a new high school among its highest priorities. With an energized and newly extended task force, Boca may now have the necessary advocates to address many of the issues Boca’s schools face both now and in the future.
This was great work. Class adjourned! (for now).