Tension Evident As School Closings Proposal Made
By Space Coast Daily // November 21, 2012
BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – Smiling faces were non-existent at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Brevard County School Board.
As expected, Brevard Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Binggeli formally recommended the closure of three elementary schools and a middle school to the board.
Binggeli asked the board to vote to shut South Lake Elementary in Titusville, Sea Park Elementary in Satellite Beach, Gardendale Elementary Magnet School on Merritt Island and Clearlake Middle School in Cocoa. If adopted, the closures would become effective at the end of this school year.
The superintendent said his rationale for proposing to close the schools is evident.
“Since the 2009-2010 school year enrollment has declined and the possibility of closing schools has existed,” Binggeli said. “We are one of 12 localities in Florida without a sales surtax. Our capital revenue has dropped 65 percent.”
Citing the failure of a half-cent sales tax referendum earlier this month, Binggeli said the school district made it plain leading up to the vote that dramatic cost-cutting measures would have to be implemented.
“We are recommending school closures tonight, but it does not bring us near the revenue we still need,” he said.
Binggeli said when the referendum failed, he asked the Brevard Public Schools director of facilities, Dane Theodore, and other staff members to come up with additional ways to reduce costs, including closing schools.
Theodore showed the board a presentation saying he carefully studied current school capacity district-wide, current enrollments and attendance boundaries before arriving at a decision that closing these four schools could be accomplished with a minimum of hardship for students and parents.
He said school boundaries would be redrawn and that students could attend other nearby schools, helping to boost the capacity of those other schools making it more cost-effective for the district.
More than 500 parents, family members, students and teachers attended the meeting, expressing their displeasure with Binggeli’s proposal.
Ingrid Combs is a retired teacher who volunteers her time at Gardendale. She said the school’s longtime track record of success and excellence in educating students makes it hard to understand why Gardendale was targeted for closure.
Combs, who was recognized as Brevard County’s “Teacher of the Year” in 1991 cited a lengthy list of school accomplishments including recognition from President Bill Clinton in 1998 proclaiming Gardendale as a the first-ever Title 1 National Blue Ribbon School.
“I urge you to keep GEMS open and alive,” Combs said.
She was just the first of a long line of speakers who implored the board to keep the schools open and to find other solutions to fixing the revenue problem.
Because of the length of the meeting, many who attended were not able to address the board, but clapped and cheered as each speaker talked.
“Doing this would be like ripping out one of the most valued assets of our community and leaving us with nothing. South Lake is a tremendous source of pride for our community and if we lose it, it will be like losing a part of our identity.” Lucy Valilieu of Titusville
Lucy Valilieu, whose grandson attends South Lake, said if the school closes, the community will suffer.
“We in Titusville have been through so much already with the loss of the Space Shuttle coupled with the the recession,” she said. “Doing this would be like ripping out one of the most valued assets of our community and leaving us with nothing. South Lake is a tremendous source of pride for our community and if we lose it, it will be like losing a part of our identity.”
Valilieu said if the school closes, her grandson will have to attend his third school in three years.
“I think members of the school board would agree that certainly not is good for him and his ability to learn,” she said. “He went to Riverside last year and they closed that school down and sent him this year to South Lake. I don’t think making him change schools again will help.”
Susan Creed of Satellite Beach said her children attend Sea Park Elementary and was attending the meeting to show her dislike for the proposal to close the school.
“We were told last year when the board threatened to close Sea Park that we would have at least two years before this was considered again,” she said. “And on top of everything, like 90 percent of the other families of children going to Sea Park, my kids can walk to school. If our school is closed, my kids will be bused more than 10 miles north to Roosevelt Elementary in Cocoa Beach. How is that economical for the district?”
Cliff Leffler of Cocoa told the board that if Clearlake Middle School shuts down, his daughter will eventually have to attend her fourth school in four years.
“She went to Fairglen last year and now she’s at Clearlake,” he said. “If Clearlake closes, she’s be bused to Space Coast Jr./Sr. High for eighth grade next year and then have to go to Cocoa High for ninth grade. It doesn’t make much sense.”
School board member Amy Kneesey said since the proposal was announced nearly two weeks ago, she has received hundreds, if not thousands of emails and phone calls from the community.
“I can only think of one of them that was positive and supported this,” she said.
Kneesey said she appreciated that so many attended the meeting to make their feelings known to the board.
She said closing the schools remains just proposal and that she will review every bit of available information before coming to a decision about it.
“I am open-minded at this point and will listen to everything that is presented to us, Kneesey said. “Nothing is final until a decision is made by the entire board in January.”
The district will conduct community forums about the school closures to listen to public input and discuss the proposal with concerned parents.
The first of the community forums will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Satellite High about Sea Park Elementary, then at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Astronaut High about South Lake Elementary. A community forum about closing Gardendale Elementary Magnet School will be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Merritt Island High and another about closing Clearlake at Clearlake Middle School at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4.
The board will meet again for an action agenda to authorize a public hearing regarding the school closures in Viera on Dec. 11 and then conduct a public hearing and vote on the proposal on Jan. 22.