Charter school advocate: With lawsuit talk, Avossa aims to “wage war” on charters

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa is expected today to ask school board members to consider suing the state government over a new law that requires county school districts to steer more money to charter schools.

Lynn Norman-Teck

One group, unsurprisingly, is not keen on the proposed lawsuit: charter school advocates and operators.

In response to Avossa’s declaration last week that the county’s public school system has “an obligation” to sue over the disputed legislation, House Bill 7069, the Florida Charter School Alliance has submitted a rebuttal.

Here is the rebuttal from Lynn Norman-Teck, a charter school parent and executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance:

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa will ask the School Board to continue to penalize families who support school choice.  The superintendent wants to join Broward County in a lawsuit to stop a new education law and funding formula that treats all public school students equally – whether they attend a district-run school or choose to attend a charter school.


Instead of making a rash decision favoring inequality, here are some facts that the superintendent and the board should remember:


  • Charter schools are public schools.


  • Charter school students are public school students.


  • The Palm Beach County School Board was elected to work on behalf of all public school students – that includes the thousands of students who attend public charter schools that the very same Palm Beach County School Board authorized and supervise.


  • Charter school parents are taxpayers who contribute to the property tax dollars used for schools – yet the superintendent wants to withhold those funds from their children, their teachers, and schools merely because they attend charter schools.


  • The sales tax increase that recently passed in Palm Beach County will raise an estimated $1.3 billion for public education, but not a penny will go to students who attend a public charter school.


For more than 20 years, public charter schools have been a vital part of Florida’s system of public education.  Unlike district-run schools, every charter school must continually prove itself. If families don’t select them, they close. And if they fail to make academic progress, they’re shut down. 


These accountability measures – along with impressive academic achievement, as featured in a Florida Department of Education report that shows that charter schools have made more learning gains (in 82 of 96 comparisons) and higher grade-level performance (proficient in 65 of 77 comparisons) statewide than district-run schools – should be lauded.


Instead, the Palm Beach County superintendent wants to wage war on the very schools that are helping students achieve academic excellence.


The lawsuit is wrong. It is an attempt to choke parental choice and penalize families who choose to attend a public charter school. 


Education dollars, whether allocated by the state or raised locally, should be allotted to the child they are earmarked for and not find their way into courtrooms in an effort to maintain a funding formula that treats one select group of students better than others.


This $21 million PBC school is just 16 years old – and it’s closing

Odyssey Middle School (Palm Beach Post file photo)

UPDATE: Palm Beach County School Board members voted unanimously Wednesday to close Odyssey Middle School at the end of the upcoming school year.


Palm Beach County School Board members are expected to vote Wednesday to shut down Odyssey Middle School next year, officially pulling the plug on the half-empty school just 16 years after opening it.

Superintendent Robert Avossa told board members in May that he wanted to close the school at the end of the upcoming school year and lease the campus to South Tech Academy, a charter school. The school’s enrollment has fallen by nearly half in little more than a decade.

Board members indicated support for the decision but did not take a formal vote at the time.

If approved Wednesday, it would be the county’s first closing of a traditional public school in more than a quarter-century.

Students attending the school this year would be reassigned to nearby middle schools in August 2018. The district is also proposing to build a new middle school further west, next to Sunset Palms Elementary on Boynton Beach Boulevard west of Florida’s Turnpike.


In their May meeting, board members spoke regretfully about the proposal to close Odyssey Middle, but Avossa called it a necessary step after years of families abandoning the campus.

“Clearly the community is sending us a message about that school,” Avossa said in May. “With all the choice options that are available, they’re not picking Odyssey.”

RELATED: Dwindling student body could see Odyssey Middle School close

The school did not always struggle to fill seats. In its first few years, its enrollment was nearly double what it was last year, when 730 attended.

Built for $21 million, Odyssey Middle opened in 2001 west of Boynton Beach to alleviate crowding at nearby middle schools. In its early years it became, for a time, one of the state’s first public middle schools to separate students by gender.

But by the beginning of this decade, white middle-class families had begun leaving the school, which pulls students from neighborhoods all the way from the coast to gated communities west of Florida’s Turnpike.

The trend picked up with the opening in 2013 of a nearby charter school, Somerset Canyons Academy.

Today, district officials say 600 students zoned for Odyssey Middle choose instead to go to charters, with most of those students attending Somerset Canyons.

In just 13 years, Odyssey Middle’s student enrollment has fallen by nearly half, from 1,360 students in 2003 to 730 last year. With room for 1,490 students, the school is less than half-full.

RELATED: West Boynton parents object to sending kids to Odyssey Middle, citing safety concerns

“The reasons I hear for not sending them in the past years is the school is focused on the lower 25 percent, but they don’t have programs for the higher (performing) children,” School Board member Karen Brill, whose district includes the school, said in May.

Over the years, some parents in the western suburbs have raised another reason for dissatisfaction with the school: They don’t want their children attending school with students from coastal Boynton Beach, which includes many poor and predominantly black neighborhoods.

“We want a school that reflects our neighborhood, that reflects where we all live and not some of the more crime-ridden neighborhoods to the east,” a parent told The Palm Beach Post in 2011. “Where we live west of the Turnpike there isn’t typically that violence.”

Allowing South Tech, a longtime district-operated technical school that converted into a charter school in 2004, will let the district use the school’s current campus – which it leases from the school board – to expand a school bus compound.

Judge hands PBC school board another defeat in its charter school feud

The Renaissance charter school franchise is fighting to build another campus in Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beach County School Board overstepped its authority by imposing new rules on charter schools that require them to keep their distance from traditional public schools and prove that they are “innovative,” an administrative law judge has ruled.

The ruling this week throws into question several restrictions on charter schools that board members approved in May 2015, billing them as a way to “make a statement” against the rapid expansion of charters, which are publicly funded but privately managed.

The rules that the judge called inappropriate included requirements that charter schools must prove they are “innovative”; that they cannot open in the “vicinity” of a traditional public school with the same grade levels and programs; and that a majority of the members of a charter school’s board of directors must be county residents.

>> RELATED: Palm Beach County approves new restrictions on charter schools

The ruling also may throw into question the school board’s decisions to reject plans for two charter school campuses in 2014 and 2015, largely on the grounds that the schools would not have been innovative.

Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Chuck Shaw (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Charter schools have been expanding steadily in the county. Last year 50-odd charter schools educated about 21,000 students countywide, or 11 percent of the public school system’s students.

School district leaders complain that charters undermine traditional public schools by drawing students and state funding away from them, making the schools less efficient and more costly to operate.

In a ruling this week, Administrative Law Judge June McKinney concluded that the school board’s charter-school restrictions amounted to “an invalid exercise” of its legal authority.

School boards do have some authority under state law to set up rules for charter schools, McKinney ruled, but the ones implemented were improper because they conflicted with or expanded upon rules already put in place by state lawmakers.

“Though it has been established that (the) school board has broad powers, the Legislature never intended to provide school boards unbridled reign to do whatever they wanted through rulemaking,” she wrote.

>> RELATED: Palm Beach County’s charter school standoff is getting personal

The ruling is the latest in a string of legal defeats for the school board since it embarked 2 1/2 years ago on a self-described “civil disobedience” stand against corporate charter school companies.

The stand started with a vote in December 2014 to reject a bid by Charter Schools USA to open a new charter school west of Delray Beach on the premise that the school would not be “innovative.”

That decision was overturned by state officials and a state appeals court. The school board has appealed the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

Now the fate of the board’s charter school restrictions are in the air as well. School board members are expected to discuss Wednesday whether to appeal this week’s ruling.

“We are holding an attorney-client session on Wednesday to discuss all options including appeal of the case,” said JulieAnn Rico, the school board’s general counsel.

The ruling was hailed as “a huge win for parents and students” by the chairman of the Renaissance Charter School franchise, which operates six charter schools in the county that are managed by Charter Schools USA.

The franchise’s bid to open its first high school in the county was rejected by the county school board in November 2015, largely on the premise that the school would not be considered innovative under the school board’s new rules.

“We are looking forward to putting this behind us and working side-by-side with the Palm Beach School District to bring new high quality educational options to the community,” Ken Haiko, chairman of the Renaissance schools, said in a statement.

“I believe all of the adults in this situation should truly keep the students as the focus for all decisions and this ruling gives parents a better opportunity for educational choice for their children,” he added.

Avossa calls for suing the state over charter-friendly law HB 7069

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County’s public school system has “an obligation” to join the growing legal fight against controversial pro-charter school legislation signed into law last month, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said today.

In an interview this morning, Avossa called for joining other county school boards in suing the state government over House Bill 7069. School boards in Broward and St. Lucie counties have decided to sue, and Palm Beach County’s school board is expected to discuss potential legal action Wednesday.

HB 7069 is a sweeping education bill that includes provisions that requires school districts to steer more money toward charter schools and makes it easier for new charter schools to open near low-performing traditional schools.

>> Related: Gov. Scott just signed HB 7069. Here’s what it does.

Avossa said a legal challenge is needed given that the new law could have large impacts on the school district’s ability to build and maintain schools. He said he has discussed legal action with more than a dozen school district superintendents in recent weeks.

It would be up to school board members to decide to take legal action, and Avossa said he has been working to “build consensus” for a lawsuit.

“I think it’s very important that the board seriously contemplate joining in on this legal battle,” Avossa said. “I think we have an obligation to our community to look after their assets.”

“This transfer of public funds to private entities is very worrisome,” he added. “I don’t want folks to look back and say ‘Why didn’t they fight tooth and nail?’”

In Palm Beach County, the provision will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year, or about 2 percent of the district’s roughly $400 million capital budget. That figure is expected to rise as the number of charter schools grows.

Last week, Broward County’s school board voted to spend $25,000 to begin putting together a plan to take legal action against the state, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Broward officials argue that the law illegally restricts the school district’s sovereignty and improperly gives charters a portion of property tax proceeds They allege the bill also violates a requirement that legislative bills focus on a single subject.

Avossa said that he will make a case for legal action at Wednesday’s board meeting but won’t press for board members to make a decision that evening.

“I’d really just like them to contemplate it and hear from us,” he said. “I think we have a little bit of time and I think we should be methodical about it. These are very complicated constitutional challenges that take time and cost money.”

Ralph Arza, a former state legislator who lobbies for the Florida Charter School Alliance, said he understood Avossa’s desire to protect the school district coffers but he said that students in charter schools deserve a fair share of tax dollars.

Currently, the county’s charter schools don’t get a cut of property tax money raised for school construction and maintenance, meaning they have to finance their own building and maintenance costs through other means.

“Kids should not be penalized because they decide to go to a public charter school,” Arza said. “Charter schools are public schools, and those kids should not be discriminated against.”


An entire Suncoast High class had to retake an AP exam over cheating concerns

Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach (File photo)

Twenty-two Suncoast High School students were called back to campus last month to retake an Advanced Placement exam after concerns arose that some of the students may have cheated on the test on their first try.

The school’s European history class sat for the exam in May, but several days later the students were pulled from the classroom and interrogated individually by school administrators, one student said.

The reason: suspicions that some of the students had cheated on the AP European History exam.

“We all got called down to the office individually and they interviewed us,” said Jose De Alvare, 16, a sophomore last year. “They thought that we had gotten the answers online.”

De Alvare said that he was not aware of anyone cheating on the exam, one of five AP exams that he took this past school year.

But College Board, the non-profit that administers the AP exams, decided that the entire class would have to retake it in order to receive credit, Suncoast’s principal said.

In a letter to parents, Principal Karen Whetsell said that the school had been alerted by test administrators that they had found a “high probability” that some of the school’s students had “an unfair advantage on the exam.” The letter did not elaborate on the findings.

“College Board determined the best way to ensure a fair administration of the exam is to have the AP European History students retake the short answer and essay sections, at no cost,” she wrote.

That meant De Alvare and his classmates had to put aside their summer plans and cram again for the exam. He said he’s not sure whether he passed but said he felt he didn’t do as well as the first time.

“We had forgotten everything we had learned,” he said. “I had a week to re-learn everything.”

School district officials released a copy of Whetsell’s letter to The Palm Beach Post but declined to comment further. The College Board did not respond to a request for comment.

Requiring students to retake AP exams over concerns about test security is rare but not unheard of. In Bradenton, nearly 250 high school students had their AP exam scores voided in May after an ineligible test proctor entered the room. The students had to retake the exam last month.

Suncoast, an application-only high school in Riviera Beach, is considered one of South Florida’s academic powerhouses. This year, U.S. News and World Report ranked Suncoast 53rd on its list of the best high schools in the nation.

RELATED: These two PBC high schools were just named among the nation’s 100 best

Open enrollment is drawing students back to PBC’s public schools

A mother walks into Galaxy Elementary School with her 3-year-old son. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

When Florida lawmakers decided last year to mandate open-enrollment policies in public schools across the state, the move prompted a fair bit of unease.

Among the worries of public school leaders: Would giving families more freedom to leave their local schools for campuses with extra space sow chaos?

But as Palm Beach County’s public school system prepares to start its first school year with open enrollment in place, district administrators say the program has been a boon, attracting at least 400 extra students into under-enrolled public schools from charters or private schools.

The open-enrollment program allows students to apply to enroll in any school with more than 10 percent of its seats empty. Bringing more students into under-enrolled schools is generally considered a plus because it makes them more efficient.

>>> RELATED: Your student didn’t get into a ‘choice’ program? There’s another option this year.

All told, 2,700 students applied this year for seats at 79 schools through the open-enrollment process, and a little more than 2,000 won seats. Of those, an estimated 400 to 500 – nearly a quarter – are expected to come from charter schools or private schools.

In other words, hundreds of students who had been in charter or private schools are either returning to district-operated schools or enrolling in them for the first time via the new open-enrollment program, district officials say.

The interest from parents outside the school district was a pleasant surprise to school district administrators, who weren’t sure how much interest the program would attract and how it would play out.

But it’s become clear that many parents view the program as a Plan B if their students don’t win a seat in a school choice (or “magnet”) program through the school district’s annual choice lottery.

>>> RELATED: These 79 PBC schools are accepting open-enrollment students

Students accepted through open enrollment won’t be able to take a school bus to school. And they won’t be eligible for any of the schools’ specialized choice programs.

But the new policy gives parents another set of options if they’re dissatisfied with their neighborhood school or think their child would be better off in a different one.

Peter Licata, the school district’s director of choice and career options, said parents applied for open-enrollment seats for “multiple reasons,” including some who were simply “unhappy with their local school.”

“We’ve had so many reasons why,” he said.

But while he said the program may benefit students, it is “inequitable” because parents can only take advantage if they are able to transport children on their own, meaning that many poorer families may not be able to take full advantage.

>> MORE:

Palm Springs mayor’s name scrubbed from Bak Middle investigation

No one was arrested over Bak Middle’s missing $66K. Now the school board may sue. 

PBC school board to consider suing over charter-friendly bill

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County School Board members will be asked this month to decide whether to sue the state over House Bill 7069, a controversial education bill that steers more money towards charter schools, the county’s schools superintendent said.

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa told The Palm Beach Post Thursday that he will ask board members on July 19 to weigh whether to join Broward County’s public school system in challenging the new law in court.

On Wednesday, Broward County’s school board became the first in the state to vote to file suit over the bill, and several other county school boards are considering whether to join in.

Avossa said that school district attorneys have been conferring with Broward’s lawyers as well as attorneys for other school boards around the state. But to join the lawsuit, school board members would need to give the go-ahead.

“I need to talk to the board on the 19th of July,” Avossa said via text message. “”We’ve been collaborating with the other (school districts) via phone.”

>> Related: Gov. Scott just signed HB 7069. Here’s what it does.

The sweeping bill became a lightning rod for criticism from the state’s superintendents and public school teachers, and in May the county school board took the unusual step of asking the county’s more than 200,000 public school parents to pressure Scott to veto it.

Scott nonetheless signed the bill in June, saying it “paves the way for every Florida student to receive a world-class education that every student deserves.”

Palm Beach County’s school board took the rare step of asking parents to pressure Gov. Rick Scott to veto House Bill 7069. (Image courtesy of PBC school district).

The sweeping 274-page education overhaul redirects more than $400 million in state money and makes a host of changes to Florida’s public-school landscape, including eliminating a state math exam, requiring most public elementary schools to offer daily recess, and providing more money for teacher bonuses and a school-voucher program for students with disabilities.

But teachers unions and school district leaders were enraged by provisions that force school districts to share construction money with charter schools and create financial incentives for new charters to open and compete with low-performing public schools

The provision that most angered Avossa and other school district leaders is one that allows the county’s charter schools to take a slice of the money that school districts raise for construction and maintenance through a local property tax.

>> Related: PBC school board asks parents to join in push for Gov. Scott to veto state budget

In Palm Beach County, that provision will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year, or about 2 percent of the district’s roughly $400 million capital budget. That figure is expected to rise as the number of charter schools grows.

Not only does the provision complicate the school district’s plans to build new schools, administrators say that it risks lowering the school district’s credit rating and raising the cost of borrowing money for future projects.

On Wednesday, Broward County’s school board voted to spend $25,000 to begin putting together a plan to take legal action against the state, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

Broward officials argue that the law illegally restricts the school district’s sovereignty and improperly gives charters a portion of property tax proceeds They allege the bill also violates a requirement that legislative bills focus on a single subject.

Several other school boards, including those in Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties, are said to be considering joining the legal battle.

Palm Beach County’s school board is scheduled to meet July 19, and Avossa said he would ask the board for guidance then.

“I need some board direction,” he said.

Palm Springs mayor’s name scrubbed from Bak Middle investigation

Palm Springs Mayor Bev Smith is an office assistant at Bak Middle School of the Arts.

Palm Springs Mayor Bev Smith was a key witness in a six-month investigation into the disappearance of $66,000 from Bak Middle School of the Arts, but you wouldn’t know it from the public record.

The Palm Beach County School District invoked an obscure provision in state law to scrub Smith’s name from two investigations of the missing money, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Palm Beach Post.

Smith, Palm Spring’s part-time mayor, is an office assistant at Bak Middle, and records show she played a key role in the investigation into the missing money, which school district detectives say was stolen from the school safe by the school’s then-treasurer, Cathleen Spring.

Smith’s name was redacted from a police witness list. (Source: Palm Beach County School District)

The longtime small-town leader and retired banker was not accused of any wrongdoing in the case, but Smith told police that she was one of a handful of school employees who assisted Spring in opening the safe and removing deposits as part of her school duties. Police say that thousands of dollars that Spring removed from the safe were never seen again.

Relying in part on Smith’s accounts, school district police moved to arrest Spring on charges of stealing the money. But state prosecutors rejected the case last year, saying the evidence against her was circumstantial.

> Editorial: Board must act quickly, restore trust in school treasurers

After The Palm Beach Post published stories about the case and an outcry ensued, Spring was arrested  in June on lesser charges.

The investigative reports, published in April on the school district’s website, originally contained several mentions of Smith’s name, even though her name had been redacted in other parts.

When officials realized her name still appeared in places, the school board inspector general’s office removed the investigation from its website and scrubbed Smith’s name before re-posting it, Inspector General Lung Chiu said.

Chiu cited a provision in state law that allows government agencies to redact from public records the names of spouses or children of law enforcement officers.

“The person whose name was redacted is a spouse of a current or former law enforcement officer,” he said.

In a follow-up interview on Wednesday, Chiu said he did not realize Smith was an elected official when he allowed her name to be removed, and that if he had known “we wouldn’t have redacted her name.”

Florida law provides an exemption to the state’s public records law for “names of the spouses and children of active or former sworn or civilian law enforcement personnel.”

Smith is married to Lake Clarke Shores Police Chief Wes Smith III. She did not respond to emails seeking comment or to phone messages left for her at Palm Springs Village Hall.

Though the  state law gives the school district discretion to keep or remove Smith’s name, a government transparency expert called the decision “patently absurd,” considering that Smith is an elected official.

Cathleen Spring

The law permits the removal of names as a safety consideration but does not require their removal, said Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation.

“The purpose of the exemption is to protect the spouses of law enforcement officers from harm,” she said. “This woman has put herself so squarely in the public eye by running for election to a public office that she cannot now claim legitimately that she needs the protection of the exemption in her role as a school secretary.”

Even though the school district purged Smith’s name from the investigative reports, it has allowed her name to appear on an online staff directory for Bak Middle School. In 2013, the school district published Smith’s name on a press release distributed to the news media.

The town of Palm Springs also lists Smith on its website as the town’s mayor. The Palm Beach County League of Cities includes her name and photo on a list of past presidents.

“I find this application of the exemption more than a little ridiculous, frankly,” Petersen said.  “The woman is an elected official who cannot now claim that she be provided anonymity.”

Smith is not the only elected official who the exemption has shielded from scrutiny in connection with a school financial scandal.

Last week, police arrested Greenacres City Councilwoman Lisa Rivera on charges of stealing more than $23,000 from Boca Raton High School, where she had worked as the school’s treasurer.

Rivera, who is married to a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy, had her name released when she was arrested, but the sheriff’s office – her husband’s employer – prevented her jail mug shot from being posted on the county jail’s online booking blotter.

This, despite the fact that photographs of Rivera are prominently displayed on the website of the Greenacres government.

“Lisa Rivera is the wife of a law enforcement officer,” a sheriff’s office spokeswoman explained. “She falls under a (public records) exemption.”

No one was arrested over Bak Middle’s missing $66K. Now the school board may sue.

Former Bak Middle School treasurer Cathleen Spring

A former treasurer accused by police of stealing more than $66,000 from Bak Middle School of the Arts could face a lawsuit from the county’s public school system if two school board members get their way.

Disappointed that the former treasurer was never arrested or charged criminally, Palm Beach County School Board members Frank Barbieri and Debra Robinson on Wednesday suggested going to civil court to try to recover money that police say vanished after the bookkeeper removed it from Bak Middle’s safe.

>> Related: Police say this woman stole $66,000 from Bak Middle School and got away with it

Cathleen Spring is accused of stealing $66,000 from the school over three years, removing the money bit by bit from more than 100 deposits placed in the school’s safe between 2012 and 2015, according to a police report.

Frank Barbieri

School district detectives determined that Spring committed grand theft, petit theft and an organized scheme to defraud, going undetected for years as she stole away cash intended for student activities, according to a police affidavit.

But state prosecutors declined last year to take the case, saying that police’s findings amounted to “circumstantial evidence.”

State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s decision not to prosecute angered many educators, county residents and – evidently – at least two school board members.

>> Related: Two PBC school treasurers were accused of theft. Only one was charged.

At a board meeting Wednesday, Barbieri suggested going after Spring in court. Robinson seconded the suggestion.

“The other thing that I ask is that we look at suing that employee civilly that stole the $66,000,” Barbieri said.

“The burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal, but it’s a preponderance of the evidence for a civil suit,” he continued, “and I think we should sue civilly to recover the $66K because we certainly have a lot of evidence that that employee took the money.”

State Attorney Dave Aronberg (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Spring — who resigned during the investigation — was the only school employee responsible for removing cash from the safe and depositing it in the school’s bank accounts.

In 108 cases, police say money vanished from deposits between the time that Spring removed them and when they were taken to the bank.

“Spring was the last individual to be in possession of these deposits later discovered missing,” school district police Detective Kevin McCoy wrote in an arrest report. “Defendant Spring never reported individual deposits missing, or documented on the drop-safe log these deposits were missing.”

But the collected evidence was not enough to pass muster with the state attorney’s public corruption unit, which dismissed it as circumstantial and said that detectives failed to prove conclusively that Spring had taken the money herself.

“In essence, the state would have to prove a negative, that no one else but Cathleen Spring could have stolen the money and that the 108 deposit envelopes actually contained the amounts recorded on them with Spring being the only one to count all the funds,” Assistant State Attorney Timothy Beckwith wrote in September.

“With the passage of time, and the lack of any direct evidence to support this conclusion,” he wrote, “the state cannot meet its burden.”

For the inability to prosecute the case, Beckwith blamed the school itself, saying that its financial controls were too lax.

Barbieri responded to that assertion with a few digs at Aronberg, saying that his office “ignored” evidence of multiple crimes.

Amid struggles, Boynton Beach High School gets new principal

Guarn Sims, has been tapped as Boynton Beach High School’s new principal. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Boynton Beach High School’s principal is being replaced amid struggles at the school to raise student achievement and calls from community activists for a new leader.

Guarn Sims – a veteran administrator who previous led Royal Palm Beach High School, Village Academy, Lantana Middle and Boynton’s Galaxy Elementary – will take over for Fred Barch, who has been the school’s principal since 2014.

Barch will be reassigned to Sims’ current position leading the district’s adult education department, district spokeswoman Kathy Burstein said.

Sims announced the appointment on Facebook Friday. (Source: Facebook)

“Excited to Return to my True Purpose as an Educator and Administrator,” Sims wrote on his personal Facebook page Friday. “Proud new Principal of Boynton Beach Community High School. My City, My Community, My Roots.”

The move comes as Boynton Beach High struggles to raise students’ performance on key state exams required for graduation. The school educates roughly 1,700 students, nearly 80 percent of whom are poor enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies.

Last year the school’s state grade dropped from a C to a D. This year’s state grades have not been released, but test scores indicate the school continued to struggle this year by some measures.

The percentage of students passing the state’s language-arts exam, a requirement for graduation, fell 3 points at the school this year to 22 percent, state records show.

The school’s passing rate on the must-pass Algebra 1 exam rose by a point to 19 percent but remains tied with Palm Beach Lakes High for the second-lowest passing rate among the county’s traditional high schools.

Fred Barch

With some of the school’s scores falling, some community activists had begun calling for Barch’s removal. Last week a group calling itself the “Boynton Beach Community Coalition” sent a letter to city commissioners asking them to pressure the school district for “a new direction with better school leadership.”

“The community stakeholders feel the school deserves a proven principal with secondary-level principal experience at ‘high needs’ schools,” the letter stated.

The letter – which did not mention either Barch or Sims by name – was not signed by any individuals, but it named two activists with ties to the city as coalition participants: Rae Whitely, spokesman for the Boynton Beach Coalition of Clergy; and Michael Byrd, president of the East Boynton Wildcats, a non-profit football program.

Whitely declined to comment and Byrd did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Sims and Barch did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Sims has deep ties to the Boynton area. He is chairman of the Delray Beach Housing Authority and last month urged Boynton Beach city commissioners to give $10 million and a tract of city-owned to an investor group that included Sims’ church and a private Texas developer. The investor group said it hoped to build affordable housing for seniors on the site.

Staff writer Alexandra Seltzer contributed to this story.