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Mayor Scott Singer and City Council fight to expedite state approval to build new elementary school in Boca Raton

A continuous delay by the Florida Department of Education has placed the construction of the new 05C elementary school in Boca Raton on a halt, announced Boca Magazine last week.

Mayor Scott Singer characterized the delay as bureaucratic and has been actively seeking to expedite the approval, he told the magazine. Singer contacted Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, a member of the Board of Education, to ask them to accelerate the review process, and said that they have city lobbyists “working diligently” to obtain the approval.

Other projects such as the new Verde Elementary School and Addison Mizner are not affected and will move forward, since rebuilds do not need state approval, said the magazine.

Following is a detailed reporting by Boca Magazine:

Update on New School Plans

Because the Florida Department of Education continues to delay Boca Raton’s new elementary school, local officials have developed a backup plan.

The school would go on 15 acres next to Don Estridge Middle on Spanish River Boulevard. The Palm Beach County School District budget has money for the project. There’s a demonstrated need for more elementary school space in the city.

State bureaucrats, however, must approve any new public school. They note that there are underused elementary schools as close as Delray Beach. Make use of those seats first, the bureaucrats say. Perhaps the district could bus Boca Raton kids to Delray or elsewhere.

The unnamed school—05C to the district—is to house students from Addison Mizner Elementary during the rebuilding of their school on Southwest 12th Avenue. Construction on 05C is supposed to begin this fall.

So if state approval is delayed indefinitely, there’s a contingency. School board member Frank Barbieri, who represents Boca Raton, told me this week that the district could put temporary classrooms on the 05C site for the Addison Mizner students. It obviously wouldn’t be the same as a traditional classroom, but the district would avoid delays on building the new school. That arrangement could last five years.

Whatever happens with the state, it would not affect the schedule for building the new Verde Elementary. That project and Addison Mizner will be financed with money from the sales tax surcharge. Because they are rebuilds, state approval is not needed. Both new schools will expand to add middle school grades.

Though it’s good to know that Boca Raton’s school building program can otherwise continue, the delay on 05C represents another example of the hostility from the state to traditional public schools. Republican leaders in Tallahassee love to preach local control when it comes to the federal government, but here is the state trampling on a local decision.

I had reported on the delay a month ago. Barbieri had hoped that the state would have agreed by now. In an email, Mayor Scott Singer said, “I wouldn’t characterize (the delay) as a hardening, but rather more bureaucracy.”

Singer said he has contacted Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, a member of the Board of Education and the governor’s office “to ask them all to expedite their review and approval.” School district officials sent documents explaining the timing. The school was to have gone elsewhere, but the land donation fell through and the city stepped in. Singer said the city’s district’s lobbyists “have been working diligently.”

Barbieri is less diplomatic. He noted in a Facebook post that the district requested 05C and two other schools back in January. He said the Board of Education “has been using stalling tactics. . .It has never taken this long to obtain approval” for a new school in Palm Beach County.

Barbieri added, “It’s ludicrous that the school district has to get approval to build a new school because we are using taxpayer dollars, yet a charter school that also uses taxpayer dollars (can) build wherever it wants without anybody’s approval.”

The school crowding issue—and bureaucracy

Since school crowding became an issue in Boca Raton last year, some uninformed residents, city council members and candidates have criticized the city for not acting sooner and more forcefully.

The council has advocated when major issues arose. A recent example was the boundary change at Calusa Elementary. When the new 05C elementary became available, the council moved quickly to approve the donation of land. After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Massacre, the police department began patrolling elementary schools because the school police department didn’t have enough officers.

But education policy in Florida is complicated, bureaucratic and political. The delay in approval of 05C shows that while cities may be able to jawbone on education, they have no power.


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