Brevard County Grapples with School Closure Question

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Brevard County Grapples with School Closure Question
As Brevard County votes to close three schools, parents, teachers and students have voiced concerns over what the implications of this move will be. Will charter schools move in?
Brevard County is making some tough decisions for the upcoming school year, which include the closures of some of Florida schools. According to the Brevard School Board, the decisions are purely financial, as the district struggles to overcome a $30 million shortfall. However, proposed closures have failed to make much of a dent in that massive shortfall, and the controversy generated by the closures may be far-reaching in terms of who will keep their seats on the board in upcoming elections. Despite the protests of students, parents and teachers, it appears that Brevard County is going to follow through with school closure plans.
 
Three Schools to Close in Brevard
 
WFTV reports that the Brevard County School Board has officially voted to close three schools in the county next year. The three schools on the list include South Lake Elementary, Gardendale Elementary and Clearlake Middle School. Another school that had been on the proposed chopping block, Sea Park Elementary, was allowed to remain open by a narrow 3-2 vote in its favor. South Lake Elementary and Gardendale both lost the votes to remain open by 3 to 2. Board members voted 4-1 to close Clearlake Middle School.
 
Some parents with students at the school took the closure news very hard – with some reacting emotionally at the school board meeting and others vowing to fight on for their neighborhood schools.
 
“I will make it my passion for the next two years to make sure everybody who voted to these schools is no longer on the school board,” Karen Proctor, a parent of a seven-year-old at Gardendale Elementary, told WFTV. She added that her child was in tears when he heard his school was closing.
 
The chairman of the school board, Dr. Barbara Murray, told parents that the schools had to be closed due to financial problems in the district. However, Murray admitted that the closure of all three schools would only recoup approximately $4 million out of the $30 million currently needed by the district. Other big-ticket items will need to be targeted if the district is to come in line with its current budget restraints, Murray stated.
 
Sea Park Elementary, the only school that was spared in the recent vote, will be allowed to remain open because all the surrounding schools are already filled to capacity. Parents with students in the schools slated for closure will be receiving notification in the near future as to the schools their children will be attending next year.
 

Parents Rally Against School Closures

Even before the official vote to close Brevard County schools, parents had begun organizing to protest the move by board members. Florida Today reports that parents have begun forming a political action committee to address the financial problems of the district, as well as school closures. The Brevard Parents PAC will be a political voice that extends beyond this immediate vote, to other matters concerning the school district, according to PAC organizers. The group hopes to exert some political clout in upcoming decisions by the school board and upcoming elections.

One of the plans that will be put in place by the PAC is the vetting of school board candidates for the 2014 election. The recent vote by the board to close Brevard schools will surely play a significant role in this vetting process. The PAC also plans to champion for financial accountability by the district, as well as community transparency. Organizers plan to maintain their independence from other education organizations in the state, including the teachers union.
 
“This school board needs to know they are being watched,” Christine McClure, Brevard parent and PAC organizer, told Florida Today. “I believe they are really apathetic to the fact that other people are out there with concerns.”
 
Will Schools be Given to Charters?
 
One concern voiced by some parents, according to the Brevard Times, is the possibility that the buildings of the closed schools will be given over to charters. A political committee known as Save Brevard Public Schools has warned that a bill recently approved by the Florida House Choice and Innovation subcommittee could allow these vacated schools to be used by charters rent free.
 
The bill specifically states, “If a district school board-owned facility that has previously been used for K-12 educational purposes is unused, it shall be made available for a charter school’s use at no cost.”
 
The PAC has voiced concern that the ability of charter schools to gain free possession of these buildings could allow the charter movement to spread throughout Brevard County at the expense of public schools in the area. However, the school board has stated there are too many variables to determine whether charter schools will move into emptied school buildings at this point.
 
The concerns may not be completely unfounded. According to an op-ed piece at Florida Today, the Brevard County board of education must spend an additional $3.5 million on charter schools next year. That amount is very close to the amount the board will save on the proposed school closures next year. In addition, the schools that were on the chopping block for next year are all neighborhood schools – no magnet or charter schools were on the list.
 
There is no way of accurately gauging the precise reasons behind Brevard’s decision to close neighborhood schools. However, one thing remains clear – parents, students and teachers across the district are unhappy with the school closure decision. That unhappiness may translate to votes for school board members during the next election season.

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