School District may squelch Boca High conversion plan, says consultant
By Dale M. King
BOCA RATON – If a plan to convert Boca Raton Community High School to a charter school passes muster with local officials, parents and the teachers union, it may be killed by the Palm Beach County School District.
That’s the opinion of Fred Schwartz, chairman of a feasibility committee that has been studying the concept. He recently told the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowners Associations that “the district is opposed to it. The district will probably find a reason not to approve it.”
But he did say an appeals process exists, and noted that every legitimate charter appeal made to date has been approved.
The proposal to turn Boca High and, eventually, all 10 of Boca Raton schools, into charter schools, has met with mixed reaction even within the city limits. Schwartz said teachers are concerned about things like wages, seniority, tenure and other benefits. The School District is dead set against it because it would funnel all state aid money to each charter school rather than that split it with the district.
Even the Federation could not reach consensus on whether to support the plan, which has already gotten the OK from a School Advisory Committee and the City Council.
Schwartz explained that the School District “has been telling teachers to worry about salaries and pensions, health benefits and seniority.”
The consultant said he recently had breakfast with Schools Superintendent Dr. Art Johnson. “I asked him if he would support it and he said no,” said Schwartz. “He said if all the schools in Boca concert, the district would lose $25 million in administration money. He said it cause a domino effect.”
Schwartz said the schools chief “is trying to use money and power to stop it.”
He also said the Classroom Teachers Association also fears the impact of switching to charter schools. But he emphasized said teachers will not lose seniority, pensions or health insurance. In fact, he added, teacher salaries should rise, but they cannot be reduced.
The conversion of Boca High would be more of a fiscal and administrative change than one affecting the physical plant. Charter schools are financed by taxpayers, but are free from most district oversight.
He said the school would operate under the jurisdiction of a volunteer, appointed committee. Teachers and educational staff would decide what and how to teach rather than have it imposed by the district.
Schwartz said the SAC has decided to draft a preliminary application to convert the educational center into a charter school.
A 501c3 nonprofit has already been created, Schwartz said. “That will be the entity that the SAC will utilize for the charter conversion.”
It must be approved by a simple majority of teachers and the union before it goes to the district for its vote. He said Boca’s School Board representative, Frank Barbieri, endorses the proposal, but apparently some other members don’t.
Parents of Boca students began moving in the direction of a charter conversion months ago after an abortive attempt by the School District to impose what they called “one size fits all” educational initiatives on Boca’s A-rated schools. The mandates would have included the removal of traditional one-teacher classrooms and imposition of new homework rules in elementary schools.
In reaction to the rancor, the Council established a committee to study the possibility of charter school conversions and see if they would make sense from education and financial points of view.
Even though the district dumped its plans for new educational initiatives back in January, Boca officials have moved ahead with the charter plan.
Among others backing the proposal are Mayor Susan Whelchel, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner and Boca High Principal Geoff McKee.