Brevard Public Schools officials hosted a community forum of 250 concerned parents on Monday night to explain the district’s decision to close schools – particularly Gardendale Elementary Magnet School. It was held at Merritt Island High School.
Michelle Irwin, Director of District Communications and Public Information, said that the purpose of the evening was “to share information and clarify questions.”
The meeting, which was raucous and confrontational at times, included parents’ questions related to Gardendale’s long-standing “A” rating. One parent said, “It doesn’t make sense to close such a quality school.”
Dane Theodore, Assistant Superintendent of Facilities Services, outlined the same capacity utilization plan that Dr. Brian Binggeli, superintendent of BPS, presented to the school board on November 20. The plan for the Merritt Island area can be found at http://www.brevardschools.org/fp-includes/communityforum/ProposedSchlClosings.html.
Under the plan, many current Gardendale students will be attending schools that are not rated as high. “You’re sending 42% of our kids to under-performing schools,” said one parent. “You’re talking about capacity, we’re talking about our students’ educations.”
Theodore said that closing Gardendale will save approximately $800,000 per year and that the savings from school closures will reduce impacts to other programs.
“We’re going to have to close schools and eliminate programs,” he said. “We need $30 million to fill the void.
“Is it better to take $3 million from four school closings or eliminate programs that will affect 40,000 students,” Theodore asked rhetorically.
He noted that Gardendale has the smallest capacity, is central in Merritt Island, and has minimal 10-year capital improvement needs. There is also ample capacity is available at adjacent schools. Theodore added that since it is a magnet school, with students coming from outside of its district, fewer in district students would be affected by its closing.
Parents also questioned why choice elementary schools, like Stevenson Elementary on Merritt Island, were not included in the capacity utilization plan.
In response to a question, Judy Preston, Associate Superintendent for Financial Services, said that the school closings and other budget cuts are being addressed in two parts because school closings require additional public hearings and “other budget cuts do not have to go through this process.”
One speaker, a husband of a Gardendale teacher, spoke in favor of keeping the school open, but admitted voting against the sales tax referendum because “everyone knows additional sales taxes harm the poor.”