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Plan to close and overhaul Broward schools faces resistance. A closer look at the growing opposition.

Plan to close and overhaul Broward schools faces resistance. A closer look at the growing opposition.

A Broward school district proposal to close three schools and make major changes to nine others is facing major pushback from some parents, homeowners and elected officials.

Oakridge Elementary in Hollywood, Olsen Middle in Dania Beach and Broward Estates Elementary in Lauderhill would shut down completely in the fall of 2025, under a plan Superintendent Howard Hepburn unveiled Monday to deal with declining enrollment. Officials in those cities have all voiced opposition to the plans.

Another proposal generating controversy is to remove the Montessori magnet program from high-performing Virginia Shuman Young Elementary in Fort Lauderdale and move it to the more struggling Bennett Elementary, two miles away.

Mary Fertig, a longtime Fort Lauderdale education activist, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel she’s “tremendously concerned this will destabilize” area schools “that we’ve been spent a generation building.”

“The fact they would do this without consulting any of us is unbelievable,” she said.

School Board member Allen Zeman, a Fort Lauderdale resident who has a countywide seat, said he plans to hold meetings with at least three cities that voiced concerns about the district’s proposals: Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines.

Zeman said a big weakness in the district’s plan has been the way it was communicated. Even though two of the three school closures were in the Hollywood area, those plans weren’t revealed prior to the first of seven town halls, which was held Monday night at Hollywood Hills High.

Zeman also said the format of the town halls — three of which have been held already and four of which are scheduled over the next week — don’t give the public a chance to have a dialog with school officials. Comments are limited to two minutes and district officials have rarely responded to questions asked by attendees.

“I plan to listen to people and actually talk to them, which has been missing from the town halls,” Zeman said of his own meetings with cities. “I want to be able to explain to them there are possibilities and potential for the system to get stronger through these repurposing efforts. We’re dramatically oversized and under-resourced.”

Zeman said he wants the district to invest money it’s now spending on buildings directly into the classroom.

One proposal Zeman supports involves a dramatic makeover to a school that is neither low-performing nor underenrolled. Virginia Shuman Young, one of the district’s most popular offerings, would switch from a Montessori school that students apply to get into, to a traditional school serving its surrounding neighborhoods. Bennett would then house the Montessori program, under the proposal.

That plan is facing major resistance, including from School Board member Sarah Leonardi, whose district includes the school. She said all the emails she has gotten oppose the idea.

“You would be disrupting one of the most successful and desirable schools, and for what?” she asked.

Zeman contends the plan could result in two A-rated schools, Virginia Shuman Young, which already has that distinction, and Bennett, which is currently C-rated. Bennett is also adjacent to Sunrise Middle in Fort Lauderdale, which has a Montessori program, providing a more seamless transition and the ability to share facilities, Zeman said.

Hepburn told the Sun Sentinel the proposal may help the district better compete, as many families in Virginia Shuman Young’s upscale Victoria Park neighborhood are choosing private schools because the school has limited space for their children.

“We have many families that live in that area that can’t send their kids there because it’s a full-choice school,” Hepburn told the Sun Sentinel.

However, the district already sets aside 150 of the 690 Virginia Shuman Young slots for students in the neighborhood, and only 126 of those are being used now, district data shows. District spokesman John Sullivan said that’s because the neighborhood seats go primarily to students starting the program in kindergarten.

“There is not a seat available in grades other than kindergarten since the existing students do not leave the school until they move to 6th grade,” he said.

Although the proposal is designed to serve more neighborhood students, it’s actually opposed by the Victoria Park Civic Association, which represents homeowners who live near the school, according to a letter association President Melissa Carbonell sent to the School Board on Thursday.

“This proposal changes the educational choices available to our residents and risks destroying a successful, diverse school program that is serving many members of our community,” Carbonell wrote.

She cited other problems. Many residents are zoned for nearby Harbordale Elementary and don’t want to be rezoned. And she noted that Bennett only has the capacity for 572 students, fewer than the 690 now attending Virginia Shuman Young. That could potentially mean there aren’t enough seats for all Montessori students.

Zeman suggested enlarging Bennett to accommodate all Virginia Shuman Young students, an idea not included in the superintendent’s proposal. That may face opposition from other board members since the district’s reasons for closing and repurposing schools is to save money and reduce the number of seats in the district, in addition to offering better options.

The Virginia Shuman Young proposal is viewed skeptically by Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Steve Glassman.

“I have serious concerns, primarily hearing from my constituents in Victoria Park,” Glassman told the Sun Sentinel. “Much more public input is necessary before final decisions are made.”

A town hall for the area is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Fort Lauderdale High. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told the Sun Sentinel he also expects the district’s proposal to be brought up at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.

Other cities in affected areas also are voicing alarm.

Officials from the city of Lauderhill raised concerns at a recent town hall about closing Broward Estates Elementary. City Manager Desorae Giles-Smith said the district has neglected many schools in her city.

“Schools in Lauderhill have not received the attention that they should. Broward Estates is one of them,” she said at a Wednesday night town hall at Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale. “We want to make sure our schools are brought up to current standards.”

The City Commission in Hollywood passed a resolution Wednesday night opposing the possible closure of the 65-year-old Oakridge Elementary and pledged to reject any requests to zone the property for non-education use. The district has proposed using the site for workforce housing.

“While workforce housing is a great need and we are addressing that need, the single-family neighborhood that surrounds Oakridge Elementary is not suitable to have multi-family units built right in the middle of it,” Mayor Josh Levy told the City Commission.

Commission members questioned why the school was even being considered. Oakridge is 76% full, well above the 55% threshold the district used in most cases to identify schools that are severely underenrolled.

District officials say Oakridge was proposed because it’s D-rated and has outdated facilities, and there’s room in other schools to house its students.

“To put them as a target because the building is old and it’s a D school — they can put money in it and fix how they’re teaching kids,” Hollywood Commissioner Adam Gruber said at the Wednesday meeting.

City commissioners in Dania Beach plan to hold a special meeting Tuesday night to vote on a resolution opposing the district’s plans to close Olsen Middle. The district has proposed using it as office space for district administrators.

City officials say the school has already grown by 100 students under the leadership of a new principal, and the city has approved 10,000 additional housing units, which will likely create more demand for the school.

“Our city is experiencing a ‘renaissance,’ and the anticipated growth will yield hundreds of new students for Olsen,” Marco Salvino, a Dania Beach commissioner who attended Olsen in the late 1960s, wrote in a letter to Hepburn.

Another alum, Commissioner Tamara James, wrote that she became disheartened by the Olsen proposal after tuning into a community meeting Monday night at Hollywood Hills High.

“It became apparent that the proposed closures disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged children, limiting their access to quality education and resources,” she wrote. “I urge you to consider investing in Dania Beach and its schools, rather than closing them.”

The concentration of school closures and shakeups in the eastern part of the county has reignited a decades-long complaint that the district fails to treat eastern and western communities equitably. While the district built new schools to accommodate growth in the west in the 1990s and 2000s, eastern schools were often left neglected. The district agreed in a 2000 lawsuit settlement to provide more equity to older schools, but complaints have continued.

Hepburn said the conditions of the schools facing possible closure are not the same as those in western areas, such as Pembroke Pines, where enrollment in district schools has also declined.

Pembroke Pines has a large and growing population of public school students, many of whom attend charter schools, so the focus is to compete rather than to close, Hepburn said.

Although Hepburn isn’t recommending any school closures in Pembroke Pines, city leaders still appeared uneasy about the plan at a Wednesday night meeting. They noted an alternate proposal released by the district which would match enrollment with capacity and possibly close 42 unnamed schools.

“That has not been taken off the table,” Pembroke Pines City Commissioner Thomas Good said at the Wednesday meeting.

Mayor Angelo Castillo agreed to send a letter to the school district saying the city opposes any school closures and asks that city leaders have “direct involvement” with any decisions the school district makes.

The city runs its own successful charter school system, but Castillo said the city may have little say on what happens to district-run schools in the city.

“I don’t want anyone to blame the city of Pembroke Pines because the School District of Broward County decides they’re going to close schools. We didn’t conceive of it, we didn’t think it up. We don’t support it,” Castillo said. “We want to find out about it, but at the end of the day, these aren’t our schools to keep open or close.”

Following four town hall meetings over the week, the School Board plans to have a workshop at 5 p.m. May 14 at Plantation High to discuss the plans. Any final decisions are scheduled to be made June 18.

Here are schools proposed for changes under the superintendent’s plan to redefine Broward schools. The plan involves numerous boundary changes, some program changes and three closures. If approved, they would take effect during the 2024-25 school year.

— Attucks Middle, Hollywood: boundary change

— Bennett Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: switch from boundary to full-choice Montessori

— Broward Estates, Lauderhill: close

— Colbert Elementary, Hollywood: boundary change

— Collins Elementary, Dania Beach: boundary change

— Deerfield Beach Elementary: public-private partnership involving a historic building

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: end Montessori program, boundary change

— Harbordale Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: boundary change

— Hollywood Central Elementary: become a K-8 school

— Hollywood Hills Elementary: boundary change

— Mary M. Bethune Elementary, Hollywood: boundary change

— McNicol Middle Hollywood: boundary change

— North Fork Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: become a full choice “commuter school” with no busses.

— North Side Elementary Fort Lauderdale: boundary change

— Oakridge Elementary, Hollywood: close

— Olsen Middle School, Dania Beach: close

— Panther Run Elementary, Pembroke Pines: house exceptional student education cluster

— Pines Middle, Pembroke Pines: switch to 6-12 collegiate academy

— Plantation Elementary: boundary change

— Quiet Waters Deerfield: public-private partnership involving unused property

— Silver Lakes Elementary, Miramar: boundary change

— Silver Palms Elementary, Pembroke Pines: boundary change

— Silver Shores Elementary, Miramar: become a full choice K-8 school with new academic theme

— Stirling Elementary, Hollywood: boundary change

— Sunland Park Academy, Fort Lauderdale: switch from K-3 to K-5, boundary change

— Tedder Elementary, Pompano: public-private partnership involving vacant land or unneeded property

— Thurgood Marshall Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: boundary change

— Virginia Shuman Young Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: switch from full choice Montessori to neighborhood boundary school

— Walker Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: boundary change

— Westwood Heights Elementary, Fort Lauderdale: boundary change


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