Are Palm Beach County schools committed to new West Boynton High? Not so fast

This is where GL Homes wants to build communities and the land it offered for schools.

Now that the Palm Beach County School Board has agreed to accept GL Homes’ offer to donate $10 million for a West Boynton Beach High and two pieces of property – one for the high school and another to the south for an elementary school – what happens next?

According to GL Homes, it’s time for both sides to sit down and craft a legally binding contract, because what the board approved last week was merely a “non-binding letter of intent.”

Opposition mounts to GL Homes’ plan to build in Ag Reserve

GL Homes officials say that contract would be contingent on the county commission approving its proposal to build more than 2,600 homes in three neighborhoods in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve.

But Superintendent Robert Avossa said this week that he’s in no hurry to knock out such a contract until he gets a better indication whether the county commission does indeed plan to give GL Homes permission to build in the south county farming region where building is limited by county rules.

Several school board members, also contacted after last week’s 6-1 vote, agree that they want to know if houses are going up before they commit to borrowing the additional millions it will take to build schools for those neighborhoods.

When will the School Board talk about this again? 

The next time they are likely to discuss the matter will be Sept. 6, when the board gets its annual review of the district’s 10-year capital plan, Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said this week.

Until now, that plan had long included mention of building an elementary in the western reaches of southern Palm Beach County, but the district was still shopping for land on which to build. GL Homes’ offer would resolve that issue.

Also in the plans were an elementary and middle school that GL Homes was going to provide land for northwest of the new city of Westlake – but those schools won’t be needed, at least not for a while, if GL Homes succeeds in its bid to scrap developments there in exchange for permission to build in the Ag Reserve.

The plan also anticipates building a high school at Lyons Road near Lake Worth Road and another west of Royal Palm Beach.

The county’s high schools are exceedingly crowded, with 12 of 21 filled or beyond capacity. The new schools would help, but the district was also considering expanding Olympic Heights, Park Vista and John I Leonard high schools to relieve crowding, Avossa said.

A new school could eliminate the need to make those big schools even bigger he said.

But much of this planning is contingent on the county’s next move.

GL Homes is due to make its presentation to the county’s planning and zoning advisory board in December. The proposal would not come before county commissioners until early next year.

“The whole thing is very uncomfortable…I want to ensure our interests are taken care of, but I don’t like being used as part of the plan to develop community support,” board member Erica Whitfield said. “I’d be more comfortable to know where the county is going first.”

Karen Brill

Board member Karen Brill echoed those sentiments, “I don’t know if there’s any urgency in bringing a final document. My biggest concern is that neither side of the Ag Reserve zoning argument use what we’re doing to leverage what they’re doing.”

Brill said accepting the letter of intent, however, was a “no brainer.”

“We have all this building going on. The schools are getting full. Where are the middle school kids going to go when they graduate?” said Brill, whose district encompasses the land in question and who sees high schoolers in that region commute all the way to Boca Raton’s Olympic Heights High because only one other high school, Park Vista, is nearby and it’s full.

Barbara McQuinn, the school board member representing the county’s northern reaches, cast the sole dissenting vote on the letter of intent. “I really wanted to have a talk about it in terms of our capital budget. This wasn’t in our plan. I understand from boundaries (experts) that ultimately we will have kids who need (a high school), but it wasn’t in our plan.”

Should the board follow the letter of intent, the board would accept 30 acres on the west side of U.S. 441 on which to build a long-planned elementary school. It would also take 75 acres and $10 million to build a high school farther north. The latter would be included in the district’s capital budget by 2022 and built by 2024.

Building a high school can cost anywhere from $60 million to $100 million depending on how many students the campus is designed to serve.

“It’s so early in that process,” Chairman Chuck Shaw said. “Until staff has time to start the planning, it’s really too early to decide what we’re doing. Number one is, where we get the money. Then there’s site approvals. ”










Many PBC schools were largely empty today as kids stayed home for the eclipse

Seventh graders in Sam Mazzetesta’s civics class watch the partial eclipse at Christa McAuliffe Middle School. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Classrooms sat mostly empty in dozens of Palm Beach County public schools Monday as parents kept their children home for the day’s solar eclipse.

Across the county, teachers reported widespread absences in their classrooms, with many saying only a handful of kids showed up in the morning. The school district gave parents the option to keep their kids home for the day or pull them out early, saying that any missed class time will be considered an excused absence.

“My classes were empty,” said Jacquelyn Whitener, a teacher at Seminole Ridge High School. “The largest class today was four of 26 (students).”

It was the same story at all school levels. At many campuses, teachers reported that less than a quarter of their students had appeared.

“It’s a ghost town at Golden Grove’s car line,” wrote Adam Miller, Golden Grove Elementary’s principal, on Twitter Monday morning, as he posted pictures of a single car dropping off a child at the Loxahatchee school.

At Clifford O Taylor/Kirklane Elementary School in Palm Springs, teachers were informed that fewer than 200 of the school’s roughly 1,300 students showed up for school, teacher Kelly Melvin said.

” It turned out to pretty much be a teacher workday,” she said. “They could have saved a bunch on gas for buses.”

Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said early reports indicated that less than half of the school district’s roughly 170,000 students showed up to school. Administrators had expected attendance to be lower than usual, but Avossa said he was surprised by the extent.

“For me personally, it was higher than expected,” Avossa said. But he added that the school district’s goal was to give parents flexibility for the historic astronomical event and that “we feel good about the decision.”

“We put children’s safety first,” he said. “We have an obligation to provide a consistent, safe place for kids. And if half of them did show up, that’s 90,000 kids.”

Maya Stuart, 12, (front center) watches the partial eclipse with fellow students at Christa McAuliffe Middle School with protective glasses provided by the school. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Higher than usual absentee rates were widely expected and were indirectly encouraged by the school district, which promised parents and students excused absences while warning them of the risks involved in allowing their children to stare at the eclipse unsupervised.

RELATED: PBC schools will excuse absences during eclipse

Even so, many teachers said they were surprised by the extent. Some suggested that school district leaders should have cancelld classes for the day so teachers wouldn’t have to give lessons that most students wouldn’t see.

“Most of the teachers here are furious,” one middle school teacher said. “It’s a waste of resources. The make-up work that teachers are going to have to give and explain is going to be a nightmare. A waste for the buses.”

While some private schools also held classes today, private Catholic schools operated by the Diocese of Palm Beach canceled classes for the day after concluding that “parents will be the best persons to supervise their children” during the eclipse.

Mitch Goldberg, whose son attends Eagles Landing Middle School, a public school west of Boca Raton, said that just a handful of students were on his son’s school bus this morning, far fewer than usual.

“The bus was packed last week, not an empty seat,” Goldberg said. “He said less than 10 were on today.”

Some students who did show up at school were treated to full-blown viewing sessions, complete with protective eye-wear purchased by the school.

The largest event appeared to be at Christa McAuliffe Middle School west of Boynton Beach, where science teachers and administrators organized a viewing event for the entire school.

Monday afternoon, about 900 student filed out onto the school’s grassy fields, where teachers and staff monitored them as they gazed up at the eclipsed sun in three one-minute bursts.

“I think this is so much better than the kids staying home,” Principal Jeffrey Silverman said. “This is one of those things they will remember forever.”

Gabriel Nermesan, a 12-year-old student, grinned as he gazed up at the sun through his protective glasses. He said that he enjoyed the opportunity to view the rare event, although he said he expected the sun to loom larger in the sky.

“I thought it’d be bigger,” he said.

Like schools across the country, the county’s public school system struggled over the past two weeks to find an appropriate balance between protecting students from risks of damaged vision and using the eclipse as a learning tool.

Outdoor activities were canceled at all district schools countywide for the afternoon, and many middle schools delayed dismissal by 15 minutes.

But after initially prohibiting all outdoor eclipse-viewing, the school district decided to let teachers bring students out for three-minute viewing sessions with protective glasses.

Schools are altered schedules and classroom assignments to prevent students from being outdoors longer than necessary. Some schools, for example, said they would hold students indoors until parents arrive to pick them up.

Avossa said that the greatest concerns revolved around releasing students after school, when distracted drivers might pose a risk on the roads and unsupervised students might be inclined to stare at the partially eclipsed sun.

But he said Monday afternoon that there had been no reports of trouble so far. And he said that at many schools teachers had taken advantage of the low attendance to get to know their students better or to do planning work.

“At the beginning of the school year there’s lots to do,” he said.

Board will take cash, land for West Boynton High if new homes OK’d

Should thousands of homes go up in the county’s south end, the Palm Beach County School Board does not want to be caught without land on which to build schools, and so Wednesday night it voted 6-1 to accept a developer’s promise of more than 100 acres and $10 million towards those needs.

The acceptance came with the caveat that the vote should not be read as an endorsement of GL Homes’ controversial proposal to build in the county’s Agricultural Reserve.

“If the deal’s on the table, we need to take it,” said board member Frank Barbieri, whose southernmost district would get 35 acres on which to build a needed elementary. “We absolutely need this land. Again, I’m not suggesting for a minute I want to get involved in the zoning changes. I want what’s best for the children.”

GL Homes offered 30 acres for elementary north of Winner’s Cir. west of U.S. 441

Barbara McQuinn, who represents the county’s northern reaches, cast the sole dissenting vote, saying that the matter came up swiftly and that she felt like a vote was a statement of commitment.

GL Homes has been behind the building of four other schools in southern Palm Beach County, but this is the first time it has offered to contribute to a high school that would likely become West Boynton Beach High.

A solution to crowding? It wasn’t in the plan. 

The high school, not in any district construction plan already, could help chip away at near-crisis crowding on most of the county’s high school campuses. It also puts a high school in a region sorely lacking one.

The land would come in two parcels both on the west side of U.S. 441 — 75 acres for the high school and another 30 acres down the road for an elementary school that has been anticipated for years, but for which district staff is still shopping for property.

“We always try to work with the community and we are hearing this is what they want. They’d like a high school,” GL Homes Vice President Kevin Ratterree said.

GL Homes offered this 75-acre parcel for West Boynton High. It is west of U.S. 441 and north of 92nd Pl. S.

The offer from GL was spelled out in a “letter of intent”. With board approval, both sides will move to draw up a legally binding contract that would be contingent on GL Homes getting the County Commission’s permission to build, GL Homes officials said.

The letter notes that this offer does not preclude the developer from paying impact fees.

The developer wasn’t required to donate land or money, though other developers have made similar grants, said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke.

Plans for community in the Ag Reserve opposed by some 

GL Homes could use all the goodwill it can get, as its plans seem to be dividing county commissioners and have been opposed by the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations and the Soil and Water Conservation District, both of which raise concerns about the strains on traffic and resources should so many homes rise on land preserved for mostly farming purposes.

“While we need a high school in west Boynton, this is not the right location,” COBWRA’s past President Dagmar Brahs told the board Wednesday night. She argued the property offered is not in the thick of students, and she decried building on land long reserved for agriculture. She echoed the sentiments of COBWRA’s President Myrna Rosoff, who when learning of the offer Tuesday said, “If this is permitted, it will be the end of the Ag Reserve.”

Nikki Descoteaux, a resident in the region, wondered whether GL Homes wasn’t putting the cart before the horse, making deals to build schools before it has the OK to build homes. She also asked that the board at least make certain its decision wasn’t later characterized as an endorsement of the proposal, and each who voted in favor said just that.

This is GL Homes’ alternative to building west of The Acreage

GL Homes’ supporters so far have been those who would rather see the developer build in the south than on property west of The Acreage, where development was originally approved.

Two other high schools, one in suburban Lake Worth and another west of Royal Palm Beach, are already in the district’s long-term building plans. While what would be West Boynton Beach High is not, that’s not to say one isn’t needed, according to the district’s boundaries and enrollment expert, Jason Link.

If GL Homes gets its wish, it would build 2,600 homes spread over three neighborhoods. By the School District’s estimate, that would mean at least 1,100 elementary, middle and high school students moving in — but maybe as many as 1,900 because GL Homes communities have been so popular with families in the past, Link said.

That number wouldn’t fill a high school — most high schools are built to take about 3,000 students. But it would add to the existing demand.

Of the district’s 21 high schools, 12 are filled close to capacity or beyond, including south county’s Park Vista, Atlantic and Spanish River. One school not filled is Olympic Heights near Glades Road west of Boca Raton. It is the only high school that serves students living west of Florida’s Turnpike from its perch on Lyons Road north to near the Hypoluxo Road line.

“That’s where we do have a huge geographic gap” without a high school, Link said.

Building a  high school wouldn’t kill or delay plans for the other high schools in the works, Burke said. But it could end the need to build an addition to Olympic Heights, he said. And it would also offer room for predicted growth in the region, Link said.

High schools do not come cheap, and a $10 million donation covers only a fraction of the cost to build. By comparison, the district estimates it will spend $95 million to build a school for more than 2,500 students on Lyons Road.

PBC schools will excuse absences during eclipse; some schools will delay dismissal

File photo

Palm Beach County’s public schools will allow students to view Monday’s solar eclipse with special protective glasses, but the viewing time will be limited to three minutes and students must get parents to sign a permission slip beforehand.

The schools will consider any absences and early departures Monday to be excused absences, giving parents additional cover to keep kids at home for the rare event, district officials announced Wednesday.

Parents who do decide to pick up their kids early are asked to do so before noon, although the school district this week advised principals that “if parents come after this time, we cannot prevent them from picking up their students.”

Students who attend school Monday may experience delays during dismissal, as schools are being instructed to reduce the amount of time that students are outdoors while waiting for parents or buses to arrive.

Alternatively, some middle schools are planning to hold students for an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day, until 4:20 p.m., to ensure that the eclipse’s peak is nearly finished by the time they leave campus.

RELATED: In reversal, PBC schools will let some kids watch Aug. 21 eclipse

The directives from school district leaders are an attempt to minimize the risk of any children damaging their eyes by staring too long at the eclipse, which will last from about 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“Even during the eclipse when the sun is 99 percent covered, the remaining part of the sun is still bright enough to damage your eyes,” school district leaders cautioned in a memo to principals.

The school district is also encouraging parents to explain to their children the risks of staring at the eclipse without protective glasses.

The directive comes as the school district grapples with how to best allow teachers to use the eclipse as a teaching opportunity while ensuring students’ safety.

Solar Eclipse 2017: Our complete coverage

Last week the school district decided initially to require all students to remain indoors during the eclipse and prohibit outdoor viewing.

But administrators relented after protests from some schools that had already purchased protective glasses and had planned outdoor viewing sessions.

Schools can now bring students outside, but only in principal-authorized viewing events with glasses purchased directly by the school and approved by the American Astronomical Society. Students cannot bring their own glasses from home to use.

RELATED: What Florida will see during historic Aug. 21 eclipse

Under the new guidelines issued this week, the school viewing events can only last three minutes, even with safety glasses.

The guidelines are causing some schools to reassess their plans for the eclipse.

At Christa McAuliffe Middle School west of Boynton Beach, the school spent $800 purchasing glasses for all students and staff members and had planned a half-hour viewing event.

That event will still go on, but educators will shorten it to just a few minutes to abide by the guidelines. During the rest of the day, science teachers have planned a series of educational events indoors.

“We’re excited,” said Principal Jeffrey Silverman. “We’ll time it and we’ll make sure everyone does the three minutes.”

When dismissal time comes, the school is planning to keep students indoors until parents arrive.

That will slow down the process, he said, but it will ensure less risk of students staring at the eclipse without protection.

“Normally when the bell rings at 4 the kids just come out front and wait,” Silverman said. “To avoid having them out there for a half-hour, we’re thinking we’ll just have them wait in the cafeteria.”

At Jupiter Middle School, science teachers purchased 100 sets of protective glasses and will give all students a chance to step outside in groups of 15 for a three-minute viewing.

“We’re making it work and I’m really excited,” said Principal Lisa Hastey. “The temptation was really to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do anything.’ But we’re doing it because we want the kids to be inspired.”

Her school is one of several middle schools that hope to avoid safety concerns during dismissal by holding the students for an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day, until 4:20 p.m. Students will also be removed from a building on campus Monday afternoon where they would have to walk outside to access a bathroom.

“That keeps everybody safe,” Hastey said.

As classes begin, 10 tips for young teachers from a veteran PBC educator

Clip art
Mike Dowling

Mike Dowling, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Emerald Cove Middle School in Wellington, began his 26th year in the classroom this week. Seven years ago he wrote 10 “Be’s” for young teachers.

This week he posted the list on his Facebook page, and we are re-publishing it with his permission.

Ten “Be’s” for New Teachers

By Mike Dowling

1. Be honest.

Don’t pretend you are something you are not. If you’re new, don’t pretend to be a veteran. You may be new, but many of your parents are coming through with their second, third, or fourth child. They have a grapevine and if you pretend to be something you are not, soon the word will go out that you are untrustworthy.

Your success will depend on an open and honest relationship with your parents. There may come a time when you will have to have difficult conversations with parents. You will need to have established an open and trusting relationship to work in the best interest of the child.

2. Be yourself.

We’re embarking on a long ride, and while you may be able to fool the parents, you don’t stand a chance of fooling the kids. Don’t let this freak you out, but there will be a bunch of eyes watching your every move and a bunch of ears listening to your every word.

It has been my experience that they will forgive you for the many mistakes you will make — or at least the many mistakes I have made and will continue to make — so long as they can trust you.

3. Be responsible.

Treasure every child as the individual that he or she is. Ignore the pressure to focus on testing. Remember “in loco parentis” not as a legal term, but as a philosophy.

I’m a bald-headed, bearded middle-aged man, but for a few hours every day, I’m also a second mom. Engage everyone, especially those students who want to hide. Keep a running total in your head (it’s easier than it sounds) to make sure everybody gets called on. Make sure E-V-E-R-Y child is highlighted.

Find something in every child that makes you glad he or she is with you. (I promise you it isn’t hard) Respect the responsibility you have.

4. Be open-minded.

You are not the parent. You will see many different types of parenting; some you will be inspired by, others will horrify you. You are a very important part of a child’s life, but only for a short period in the child’s life.

Respect the fact that, while your role is very important, it is only temporary.

5. Be alert.

If you see something wrong, you are obliged to act. In the state of Florida, it our job to report—not to investigate—any suspicion of abuse. In my career, I’ve had to call the Department of Children and Family Services four times. Each time my hands shook and my throat went dry because I was not positive of what I observed.

The calls are anonymous, but parents may be able to guess who made the call. Tough! Your responsibility is to the child. Nobody says the parents have to like you, and the law is clear in saying you must report any suspicions.

6. Be proactive.

Call every parent the first week. Exchange contact information, and if you are a veteran teacher, set your expectations. The parent does not expect you to know their child the first week, so you can establish a friendly rapport before there are any discipline issues. You may also get first-hand information about any concerns long before the official paperwork makes it to your desk.

The 504 plan, the IEP, or the EP tells you the minimum you must do, but an open relationship with the parent can help to maximize every child’s potential.

7. Be visible.

Stand outside your door at the beginning of class — even when the principal isn’t around. I’ve always told my students that they are entering my home, and I owe them the respect of greeting them by name.

“Keep telling me your name until I know it — don’t let me get away with ‘buddy’ or some other generic name. Make sure I know you as the special person you are.”

If that sounds corny, get over it.

8. Be diligent.

Keep records of every phone call or parent contact. It doesn’t matter if you keep it in a notebook, or scraps of paper or in your grade book. Ninety-nine percent of parents will be on your side and willing to forgive your mistakes, but always be prepared to demonstrate to your principal that you have done your job.

9. Be transparent.

Don’t make empty threats because the kids and the parents will soon learn to ignore them.

10. Be brave.

Even after twenty-five rounds, I’ll have a twinge in my stomach as that first group comes in. Don’t worry too much because they’re a lot more afraid of you than you are of them.

Teaching is an unbelievably challenging job. Don’t bother going to the doctor, it is natural that you’ll need a lot more sleep the first few days or weeks. Your mind and your body will have been engaged all day. But remember, this is what you signed up for, and I can tell you from experience that becoming a teacher is the best decision I have ever made in my life.

The first few days are a bear, but it won’t take long for you to find out if this is the job and the life for you. If it is, I guarantee you’ll have a blast.

I have.

Few problems reported as classes begin for Palm Beach County public schools

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa meets with students at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County’s public schools reported a a smooth start to the new school year Monday morning, saying that glitches were few and far between as an estimated 193,000 students arrived for classes countywide.

“So far opening has been uneventful, which is the best news that I can provide,” Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said at a news conference this morning.

Isolated bus problems did emerge at several schools, with some parents complaining that their children’s buses did not show up at their scheduled time. Avossa said some buses also arrived at their scheduled stops too early.

“Today was the first day,” Avossa said during a question-and-answer session on Facebook Monday afternoon. “It usually takes us 10 days to work out any kinks.”

Still, Avossa said that more than 90 percent of the county’s school buses delivered students to school on time, a marked improvement from widespread transportation problems two years ago.

The school district’s more than 180 campuses also were reported to be in working order, even as officials press ahead with millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades being financed by an increase in the county’s sales tax.

One notable exception was at Boca Raton Middle School, where the school’s air-conditioning system broke down over the weekend.

Administrators rushed to bring in a truck-sized backup system, which they said was managing to keep the school cool when classes started this morning.

Belvedere Elementary in West Palm Beach had air-conditioning challenges this morning as well, with administrators discovering this morning that the system was blowing warm air.

Officials say the system had been fixed within a couple of hours and was blowing cold again by 10 a.m.

All told, an estimated 193,500 students were expected to show up for school today, including in the county’s roughly 50 charter schools.

Three charter schools closed this summer, including Riviera Beach Maritime Academy, which chose not to reopen after Riviera Beach city officials declined to renew its lease on a city-owned campus. Last year, the school enrolled about 140 students, records show.

After working this summer to find a way to keep the school open, the charter school’s leaders alerted the school district last week that it would not be reopening, said Jim Pegg, director of the school district’s charter school office.

Also closed this year are Learning Path Academy in West Palm Beach and the Belle Glade Excel charter school, Pegg said.

Meanwhile, a new charter school has opened: BridgePrep Academy of Palm Beach, which opened near West Atlantic Avenue west of Delray Beach. The K-8 school is opening this year with students from kindergarten to sixth grade, its principal said.

Avossa started his day at Washington Elementary in Riviera Beach, a school that saw its grade go from an F to a B when the state reported them in late June. The school is also one of 20 schools this fall to debut a new full-time program for gifted students.

From there, Avossa headed southwest to Grassy Waters Elementary, which is using a biomedical magnet to rebuild enrollment and draw students back from charter schools.

For the first time in years, the school is closing in on filling all of its more than 900 seats, Principal Jennifer Galindo said Monday. But just as exciting on the first day, the school’s retired cafeteria director returned for one more opening day to officially hand off the … serving spoon to the new guy in charge.

“I just had to come in,” Joanne Zotos said.

In suburban Boynton Beach, Hidden Oaks Elementary welcomed its first ever sixth-graders – more than 70 in all. The school is walking the path to becoming the district’s first neighborhood school to go K-8 over the next three years, adding one grade per year.

“This is the model we want to go to,” Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen said during his morning walk-through. Hidden Oaks also had lost students over the years to charter schools, and Monday morning some of them had returned.

Enrollment in sixth grade this year came by choice – parents had to sign up their children. In the future, the school’s traditional boundaries are expected to keep them at Hidden Oaks unless they choose to go somewhere else.

The two other district schools that span kindergarten to eighth grade, do so as specialty schools such as North Palm Beach’s Conservatory School for arts.


PBC school board joins suit over charter-friendly education law

Gov. Rick Scott during a visit to Galaxy Elementary School in 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County School Board members voted Wednesday to join at least six other Florida school boards in a lawsuit over charter school-friendly legislation passed this spring and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June.

Without discussion or debate, board members unanimously authorized joining a growing group of school boards planning to sue the state on the grounds that parts of a controversial education bill, House Bill 7069, violate Florida’s constitution.

Board members okayed paying up to $25,000 in legal fees to participate in the planned lawsuit. They would still have to sign off before officially joining any litigation.

More than a dozen county school boards across the state are mulling whether to join the lawsuit. School Board General Counsel JulieAnn Rico said six others are officially on board: Broward, Miami-Dade, Saint Lucie, Volusia, Lee and Bay counties. Miami-Dade’s school board also voted Wednesday to join the planned legal action.

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

House Bill 7069, a sweeping 274-page education overhaul, forces school districts to share construction money with charter schools and creates financial incentives for new charters to open and compete with low-performing public schools.

In Palm Beach County, the provision requiring school boards to share  property tax revenue dedicated to construction and maintenance will cost the school district an estimated $10 million next year alone, 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.

Educators argued that the law illegally restricts school boards’ 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.

Charter school advocates have condemned the plans for legal action, saying that charters are entitled to a portion of the school board’s contruction money since they educate public school students as well.

Though board members approved the lawsuit without discussion, in recent weeks board members and Superintendent Robert Avossa have made clear their intent to fight the law tooth-and-nail in court.

Last month School Board member Marcia Andrews called House Bill 7069 “a monster that needs to be really, really answered to by all school districts.”

“We must do something,” she said at the time. “It’s really important when we look at this bill.”

Avossa said last month that the new law could have large impacts on the school district’s ability to build and maintain schools.

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


This A-rated school is Palm Beach County’s most unhappy campus

Jerry Thomas Elementary School in Jupiter. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

This school’s troubles show why high test scores aren’t everything.

It’s a high-achieving school, with an A grade from the state and an address in a prosperous zip code.

But if any school demonstrates the adage that test scores aren’t everything, it’s this Jupiter campus.

Despite its high marks, Jerry Thomas Elementary last year had the unhappiest teachers and staff in Palm Beach County, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of anonymous employee survey results.

That puts it at the very bottom of the 165 schools in The Post’s teacher-satisfaction database.

Teachers and staff gave Jerry Thomas low marks for school climate, leadership and for setting high expectations. Their responses to some questions about the campus were truly eye-popping.

Asked whether teachers generally respect their school administrators, just 18 percent of those surveyed agreed.

Asked whether there is a great deal of trust among teachers and school administrators, only 21 percent agreed.

How happy are teachers at your school? See for yourself

See the mood at a Palm Beach County public school on The Palm Beach Post’s teacher survey database.

At Jerry Thomas, teachers’ low opinion of their own school is particularly striking considering how well it fares academically.

In 18 years, the school’s grade has never been lower than a B, and it has had an A rating for 14 of the past 16 years, including this past year.

So what’s going on?

Despite the school’s high performance, this year the school’s teachers were pitted in a long-brewing conflict with Principal Michael Rieckenberg and Assistant Principal Shernett Alexander.

An official familiar with the happenings at the school told The Post that many teachers clashed with Alexander and faulted Rieckenberg for failing to resolve the conflict.

“This past school year it went from worse to frickin’ horrible,” said the official, who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly about the school’s issues. “That questionnaire is reflective of what was happening.”

‘He didn’t lean in and try to solve the problem’

Former Principal Michael Rieckenberg (Source: Palm Beach County School District)

After more than a year of complaints, the issue finally got the attention of school district administrators. Rieckenberg ended up resigning and Alexander was transferred to a position in the school district’s central office, a district spokeswoman said.

Rieckenberg, who took charge of the school in August 2015, appears to have deactivated the personal email address and phone number that he registered with the school district. Multiple efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. Alexander did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

In an interview, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa acknowledged the school’s longstanding tensions and said the survey results helped to underscore the problem.

The source of tension, initially, was “the AP (assistant principal) and her style,” Avossa said. But, he said, teachers eventually blamed Rieckenberg for not doing enough to resolve the issue.

“He didn’t lean in and try to solve the problem and get her to back off,” Avossa said. “It did start off with her, but it did ultimately hurt the whole administrative team.”

To calm the tensions, the school district has tapped Jeff Eassa, the principal of Woodlands Middle School, to step in and address the problem.

In an interview, Eassa said he couldn’t speak to what happened in the past school year, but he vowed to try to stabilize things when the new school year begins.

“I’ve seen the results and I’m aware of the results, and I’m crafting a very specific plan to have improved results for next year,” he said.

This is Palm Beach County’s happiest public school

Students, parents, and teachers entering Eldridge Gale Elementary in 2014. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

Teachers at this Wellington school love their principal, love their students and love the school’s direction.

Since it opened in 2005, Elbridge Gale Elementary School has been a powerhouse of high student achievement and high spirits.

A campus of just under 1,000 students, it has earned an A grade from the state every year except for one (in 2013). Its teachers routinely win countywide awards for teaching excellence.

And surveys show its teachers overwhelmingly love teaching there.

When the Palm Beach County School District surveyed teachers and staff at more than 160 schools this year, Elbridge Gale came out at the top of the heap in staff satisfaction, a Palm Beach Post analysis shows.

Fifty-five percent of the school’s 112 teachers and employees completed the surveys, and a whopping 100 percent of the survey-takers gave the school high marks for leadership, high expectations and student conduct.

How happy are teachers at your school? See for yourself

You can compare staff satisfaction rates at each of Palm Beach County’s public schools.

Wellington is known for its high-rated public schools, so it’s little surprise that one of its school would top the county’s list in teacher surveys.

But Gail Pasterczyk, Elbridge Gale’s principal, says her school has an additional advantage: As the school’s founding principal, she has had control over all of the school’s hiring decisions since it opened its doors.

Principal Gail Pasterczyk

“That’s part of my secret,” she said. “I’ve been able to hire my entire staff. And I’ve been known to have high standards.”

When it’s time to hire a new teacher, Pasterczyk doesn’t interview candidates by herself. Instead, an entire team takes part in the interview. So if it’s a fourth-grade teaching position that needs to be filled, all the fourth-grade teachers participate.

The entire school is “departmentalized,” meaning at every grade level teachers specialize in either math, reading or science and social studies.

Among her staff, Pasterczyk aims for “a family atmosphere.” She says every teacher has her cell phone number and is encouraged to call with concerns. She’s been known to take teacher to medical appointments.

“I say come to the source, come to me,” she said. “I always want a happy staff.”

‘They’d have to pay me a half-million dollars to leave’

Students are greeted by Elbridge Gale Elementary’s gator mascot in 2014. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

In order to teach at the school, one teacher drives each day from Coral Springs. Others make the trek from Jupiter.

The school’s teaching staff has routinely won recognitions for excellence. In 2009 and 2010, two of the county’s 25 Dwyer Award finalists were Elbridge Gale teachers.

In 2011, a third-grade teacher was selected as Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year. In 2014, one of the school’s teachers won the Dwyer award for elementary education.

Pasterczyk understands how fortunate she’s been to steer the school for so long.

In her previous post, she was assigned to turn around Indian Pines Elementary west of Lantana, which was a D school at the time.

She said that with great effort the school rose to an A grade. But that often meant tough conversations and hard decisions.

“That’s certainly a different kind of challenge,” she said. “When you are hired to be a change agent, you often don’t make a lot of friends.”

By opening Elbridge Gale, she’s been able to implement her vision from the get-go.

“They’d have to pay me a half-million dollars to leave this school,” she said. “I just couldn’t leave.”

PBC schools start Aug. 14, a day earlier than last year – sort of


Once again, the summer is rolling to a close that seems to have arrived even earlier than before.

The first day of school in Palm Beach County has indeed crept back one more day on the calendar, making this year’s opening on Aug. 14 the earliest start date in 12 years.

And, in case you’re curious, the date steps backward by one for the next two years, giving us first days on Aug. 13, 2018 and then Aug. 12, 2019 – but each time school starts on a Monday in the third week of August.  Even then, the 2005 school year which kicked off on the 10th day of that August marks the earliest first day of school in this millennium.

Before the first bell rings, you will get one holiday – the Florida  sales-tax holiday.  The tax-free shopping stretch which applies largely to classroom supply lists and clothing, begins Friday, Aug. 4 and runs through Sunday. The big draw this year: computers are eligible for the tax break.

File photo 1999

Looking for an actual holiday? The first of the school year, Labor Day, delivers a Monday off in week four.

The public school schedule has undergone a couple of other significant changes.

The district has nixed all of those half-days. Once intended for teacher training, they were better known as those days that sent parents scrambling for a plan to get kids to school later or bring them home early.

That move made way for another change in the calendar: A week-long Thanksgiving holiday.

The first day of school has long been a contentious topic in Florida, where the school year historically started before the Labor Day weekend – once a common starting point in states to the north. But, by law, it couldn’t start more than two weeks before.

In 2016, when Labor Day fell on Sept. 7, that meant Palm Beach County schools were headed for an Aug. 24 start date – the latest in a decade.  Parents and teachers objected to a calendar that pushed the end of the 81-day semester into the weeks after the winter holiday break. While that could’ve been remedied by having fewer holidays in the fall, negotiators didn’t like that either.

In the end, lawmakers that spring changed the law, allowing districts to pick a start date no earlier than Aug. 10.

This year, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are waiting another week, starting Aug. 21. To our north, Martin County schools open Tuesday, Aug. 15.  Of the large urban districts, Hillsborough and Pinellas are the only two to begin on the earliest date possible, Aug. 10.