Boca boundary changes OK’d, one neighborhood gets a pass

Board ruled Casa Bella, a neighborhood in 296-C, will not have to move. Second vote comes next month.

Board ruled Casa Bella, a neighborhood in 296-C, will not have to move. Second vote comes next month.

Plans to carve out more room at Calusa Elementary by changing boundaries to that school and five others in the Boca Raton region moved forward Wednesday night with one significant change: the Casa Bella neighborhood can to stay put.

The boundary changes, which passed on a 6-1 vote with Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson dissenting, will require a second vote of the Palm Beach County School Board on Feb. 22 before they become official. Those changes still would shuffle more than 300 students at six schools in order to trim the rolls at Calusa, the most crowded elementary in the district.

The parents of Casa Bella successfully convinced a majority of the board that moving them would create a burdensome commute for those living in the neighborhood with only one exit inconveniently located in the opposite direction from their would-be assignment at Whispering Pines Elementary.

They also raised concerns about feeder patterns that would come into play as children moved into middle schools without many of their elementary school peers.

How crowded is it? 

Calusa was built for 836 students and can house slightly more thanks to 14 portable classrooms. But this fall, enrollment hit 1,204.

The principal has carved out additional classrooms from computer labs, kindergarten kitchen space and administrative offices. Art and music teachers don’t have their own rooms.

Board members Frank Barbieri and Karen Brill, who represent parents in the area, championed the exception noting that the number of students in the neighborhood that would stay was not large.

Morikami alternative

They also noted that the  proposal also gives the Casa Bella neighborhood priority in the choice program lottery for Morikami Elementary, which may mean fewer students would be at Calusa – though that’s not a guarantee. Last year, eight children from the neighborhood enrolled at the Delray Beach International Baccalaureate primary years school. This year, that number grew to 24, but those students aren’t obligated to choose Morikami if they’re still permitted to attend Calusa.

Potential boundary jumpers

For months parents have also complained of boundary jumpers adding to the crowding at Calusa. In a culling of enrollment, staff has now flagged 97 questionable addresses, said Jason Link, the district’s boundaries expert.

Past experience indicate that after those parents are interviewed and further scrutiny to their reasons for their enrollment, about two-thirds will have legitimate reason to stay and the remaining third – or about 30 students – would have to leave.

Not everyone was on board with the exception for Casa Bella. 

Board member Erica Whitfield and Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson voted against the exception.

“I’m concerned about making changes for 296-c (Casa Bella’s attendance zone). I feel if they’re concerned about the transit times that they could go to Orchard View,” said Whitfield, who phoned in her comments while she’s recovering from a back injury.

In the various options considered by the advisory boundary committee, those that sent Boca Raton students to Delray Beach schools proved the most contentious and unpopular with parents who attended the committee’s meetings by the dozens.

The repeated concerns that Boca students would be forced to attend Delray concerns was a particular concern to several boundary committee members and also to Robinson.

The district is a countywide school district that does not recognize city boundaries and should not make them a consideration, Robinson said. She noted that for example, there is no high school in Riviera Beach so all of those teens must leave their home town to attend school.

“If we’re going to say that’s a consideration for us, I want to be clear it needs to be a consideration for everybody,” Robinson said.

“Boundary changes are always very difficult. I hope we have the same concern and compassion for the children whose adults in their lives don’t have the wherewithal to write the letter,” Robinson said.

Board member Marcia Andrews asked that staff look into any safety concerns, after all if there are such issues the district must tend to the needs of the students already there.

 

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