VIERA, Florida - The Superintendent of Brevard Public Schools presented a passionate defense of his recommendation to close four schools for the 2013-14 school year at a board meeting on Tuesday night. A crowd of over 500 people attended the meeting.
Dr. Brian Binggeli said that the district has no choice but to take drastic measures to maintain operational facilities since the sales tax referendum was defeated in November’s election. “We don’t buy magic chillers and magic school busses and we don’t put on magic roofs.
“In fact, the school closures do not nearly get us where we need to go,” he added. “There is a potential for further cuts.”
The schools targeted for closure are South Lake Elementary in Titusville, Sea Park Elementary in Satellite Beach, Gardendale Elementary in Merritt Island, and Clearlake Middle in Cocoa.
The school board website added that “it is anticipated that these schools will be re-purposed to accommodate Adult Education and Alternative Learning programs currently in leased facilities, and other programs and/or support functions.”
Each school was well-represented with coordinated efforts that included matching t-shirts and signs. Citizens had an opportunity to speak to the board about the proposed closures, with each school getting equal time to make their cases.
Newly-elected Board Chair Dr. Barbara Murray said, “I appreciate the speakers’ polite comments and respect for the board. We received a great deal of information tonight and expect more at our scheduled community forums.”
These meetings will be held as follows: November 26 at Satellite High School, November 27 at Astronaut High School, December 3 at Merritt Island High School, and December 4 at Clearlake Middle School. All meetings will be held from 6:30-8:00 pm.
For more information about these meetings and other relates information, go to http://www.brevardschools.org/fp-includes/communityforum/ProposedSchlClosings.html
Dane Theodore outlined Binggeli’s plan and said that the main criteria for targeting a school for closure is if it is “a small school, a central school, and it doesn’t have a large capacity.”
South Lake is currently at 88% utilization, however four nearby schools are below 80%. If the proposal is accepted, these schools – Apollo, Mims, Oak Park, and Pinewood – will all increase their populations to over 85%. Coquina and Imperial Estates will also add students.
Misty Belford, a parent at nearby Oak Park Elementary, said that the closing of Riverview Elementary last year should exempt South Lake from the list. “My numbers says that 250 students who moved from Riverview will be moved again. We shouldn’t be faced with the prospect of another Title I school closure.”
In Satellite Beach, Sea Park is currently at 90% utilization with three neighboring schools at below 70%. If the proposal is accepted, Roosevelt, Holland, and Cape View will all reach over 85% occupancy.
A speaker for Sea Park said that previous data used last time the school was considered for closure was not accurate. “We thought the plan to close Sea Park had been tabled.”
Gardendale in Merritt Island is currently at only 72% utilization – with three other Island schools below 75%. A closure at Gardendale will increase enrollment at MILA from 67% to 78%, Audubon from 64% to 79%, and Tropical from 71% to 75%. Lewis Carroll’s effects will be only an addition of 62 students.
Ingrid Combs, a former teacher at Gardendale and a former Brevard County Teacher of the Year, defended the school, “We are the only four-themed magnet school in the nation. We are unique, successful. We are open and alive.”
Clearlake Middle currently has a utilization percentage of 67% with Jefferson at 73% and Space Coast at 74%. If the proposal is accepted, Jefferson will rise to 90% and Space Coast Middle to 118%. However, since Space Coast is on the same campus as a high school, its total permanent utilization is at 139%.
Student President Samantha Cavallaro of Cocoa said many were devastated when they heard the news at Cocoa’s only middle school. “I could see the anger and heartbreak on peoples’ faces. Why throw everything away after all the progress we’ve made.”
During his presentation, Binggeli noted that the district has already become more efficient. He cited statistics such as a drop of 24% of energy consumption, a reduction in tangible property insurance costs, and lower health care costs as evidence.
Binggeli also cited staffing numbers that show BPS has reduced costs there too. “Our district administrators’ salaries are 0.41% of full-time staff and the state average is 0.94%...and we pay less.”
The Board’s Vice Chair Amy Kneessy said of the evening’s discussions, “I thought it went as well as could be expected. This is the hardest process I have been through as a board member. It is gut-wrenching.”
The issue will be on the board’s agenda on December 11 as an action item and then again on January 22, 2013 as a public hearing.