Board Postpones Taking Vote To Ax Four Schools
By Space Coast Daily // January 23, 2013
Decision Expected Feb. 12
BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – Schools on the chopping block received a temporary reprieve at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Brevard County School Board their fate was delayed a board meeting on Feb. 12.
The board continued discussions about the closure until nearly midnight, but a crucial vote about shuttering South Lake Elementary School in Titusville, Gardendale Elementary Magnet School on Merritt Island, Sea Park Elementary School in Satellite Beach and Clearlake Middle School in Cocoa was put off until the board’s next meeting in February to allow time for the municipal Capital Outlay Committee to review the closures and also for the board to study tangible savings realized by possibly refinancing its debt.
“This is slow torture to leave us hanging,” said Mary Thomas of Cocoa, whose two grandsons attend Clearlake Middle School. “But at least they gave themselves three more weeks to try and find a solution other than closing our school.”
On the brink
The delay does allow a few more weeks for board members to receive public input and explore possible solutions, but the schools remain teetering on the brink of being closed.
The total projected savings from a debt refinancing plan would only yield about $4.7 million at the most, while Schools superintendent Dr. Brian T. Binggeli said the district is looking at about a $32 million deficit.
Binggeli recommended to the board that refinancing at this time when rates are lower and the schools enjoy a favorable AA rank from credit raters would be prudent and allow the district to pull back some on drastic cuts announced in December in addition to closing schools to a narrow the budget gap.
The board voted to look at possible refinancing plans over the course of its next few meetings and carefully examine the plans before deciding to implement one of them.
The meeting then shifted to a public hearing about school closings and speakers from each school were given time to speak about the issue.
Titusville mayor Jim Tulley told the board he urged them to take forthcoming recommendations from Brevard’s Capital Outlay Committee — which the board has a contractual agreement with — to heart.
“We believe there are far too many unresolved questions to move forward.” Titusville mayor Jim Tulley
“School concurrency is part of our agreement and is consistent with our economic interest,” he said. “We believe there are far too many unresolved questions to move forward. Your mission is to serve every student. Our mission is to serve every citizen. Closing schools has an affect on every community.”
Titusville city attorney emeritus Dwight W. Severs told the board that the COC’s interloaxcl agreement requires a comprehensive review before any schools could be closed.
Severs outlined what he thought were flaws in the criteria used to determine which schools should face closure, which the superintendent listed in November as capacity and the ease to change students to other schools through the redistricting of boundaries.
“We think the process was flawed from the beginning,” Severs said.
Brevard County Commissioner Chuck Nelson advised the board to keep working to find a solution other than closing schools.
“My challenge to you is to keep them open,” Nelson said. “Make it your mission not to close schools, but rather your challenge to keep them open.”
Robin Fisher, another Brevard County County Commissioner, told the board that the packed house sitting in the audience was another possible solution to help them.
“Challenge these parents to go sell a sales tax,” he said. “Have them go and talk to our state legislators.”
Ingrid Combs, Brevard County’s 1991 Teacher of The Year, told the board more than 10,300 volunteer hours were supplied to Gardendale alone last year and closing that school would see those volunteer hours disappear.
“Gardendale deserves to do what it does best,” Combs said.
Mayor Mark Brimer of Satellite Beach said closing Sea Park would harm a fragile economic recovery under way beachside and the board needs to look long-term before deciding to implement a short-term school closure solution.
“Sea Park is our oldest community school,” he said.
“Every school has a great reason for continuing to exist. Our alternatives are limited.” Brevard County School Board member Andy Ziegler
School Board member Andy Ziegler said each school in Brevard has merits for staying open, but solutions to the budget shortfall are few.
“Every school has a great reason for continuing to exist,” Ziegler said. “Our alternatives are limited.”
Binggeli said the budget shortfall is a result of reduced funding available from Tallahassee and failure of of a school tax referendum rejected by voters last fall.
School board chairwoman Dr. Barbara Murray she is unwilling to pass the buck and run a deficit for the schools going forward.
“This board made a very conscious effort to not put this debt on future generations,” she said.
In other news, the board learned from Richard Smith, president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers, that 68 percent of teachers voted to ratify a new contract with the schools and that teachers understand the plight the board faces in overcoming the budget shortfall.
“The people that we should be speaking to are not here tonight,” Smith said about Brevard’s state legislative delegation. “We’ve been given an unsolvable puzzle and we’re trying to solve it.”
He said calling and emailing school board members lets them know how the public feels about school closure, but the public also needs to make their feelings known to Brevard’s legislators who help set state policy and set forth state school funding.