From The Desk of the Mayor: Should Boca High become a Charter School?
By: Mayor Susan Whelchel
BOCA RATON – In the City of Boca Raton, as in all of Palm Beach County, we have very high standards and expectations in regard to our quality of life.
Everyone knows that each individual school, city, or district has unique characteristics, needs, and concerns in educating their students.
In terms of educational excellence, our local public schools should address all the basic educational and physical needs of all students and create a learning environment that will allow them to excel beyond the standard structure of education.
One very important concern recently raised in our community is whether our public school students are receiving the absolute best available education even though our public schools are rated very highly by customary Florida educational standards.
In Boca Raton, many teachers, students, parents, and citizens have expressed interest in existing schools being converted to charter schools to help enhance the quality of education and academic resources being delivered to our children. The Boca Raton High School Advisory Committee is now exploring whether a conversion of the school to a Conversion Charter School, operating within the School District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC), would provide the flexibility to educate each child to their fullest potential.
What is a Charter School? A Charter School is an independent public school that is fiscally and academically accountable to local sponsoring school district, but exempt from many district and state statutes.
Under Florida law, a charter school can be created to enhance educational choices for parents and students, to promote innovation, to improve achievement, and to create and enhance professional opportunities for teachers, including the ownership of the learning program at the school site. The SDPBC is the sponsor of 33 charter schools as of July 2009 http://www.palmbeachschools.org/charter/.
The purpose of changing Boca Raton High School into a Charter School would be to allow local Boca Raton school administrators and teachers to boost an already excellent program for all students at the high school and to allow the school to pay teachers more than they presently receive from the SDPBC.
In simple words, advocates of a Boca Raton High Charter School argue that if the change took place, it would breed a higher standard of excellence of education at Boca Raton High while promoting more flexibility and better use of fiscal and educational resources to deliver first-rate education curriculum to all students.
Under this plan, the school would remain a public school under the auspices of the SDPBC, but would be controlled by a voluntary board of trustees. Here is an example of how the board of trustees may be composed:
Seven voting, volunteer, adult Trustees, with 4-year staggered terms:
- One member elected by the current teachers.
- One member elected by current staff members.
- One member elected by the current parents.
- One member elected by registered City of Boca Raton voters.
- One member appointed by SAC to represent legal interests.
- One member appointed by SAC to represent financial management interests.
- One member appointed by SAC to represent fundraising interests.
Four non-voting members:
- PTSA-Appointed Representative
- Student Government-Appointed Representative
- School Chief Financial Officer
- School Principal
This means that school would be kept intact with the same boundary lines, but local Boca Raton High School administrators would be given more flexibility in terms of paying teachers a better salary and participating in better educational programs.
The change would increase the allocation of monies back into the Boca High School by the SDPBC. The SDPBC currently receives funds for Boca High School students for school and afterschool programs from the state and Federal government. However the SDPBC keeps a substantial part of these funds for “administration.” The change would not involve an increase in taxes.
There are several reasons being given to promote Boca High into a Conversion Charter School:
- Administrative costs would go down because built in costs for the entire school district that are allocated to Boca students would be eliminated, which could give the School a minimum of $1 million in the first year alone, and ultimately $3.4 to $4 million more per year. These monies, instead of going to the SDPBC, would be specifically spent within Boca High School;
- There would be much more flexibility in curriculum, which would allow the school to increase the quality of education and better address needs of local students;
- Teachers would get paid more in salary and benefits than the other Palm Beach County and Florida teachers, which would allow Boca Raton High to attract and retain the finest teachers in Florida. The goal would be to have best compensated teachers in Palm Beach County and State of Florida, while matching the job security that they have now;
- Budgets are utilized differently in charter schools so that money from one fiscal year could carry over year to year. Presently, if the money is not spent in a fiscal year, it reverts back to the School District-as a result, the Charter monies would be spent more efficiently;
- More money retained in the school would increase offerings for students.Summer, after hour, sports and vacation programs would increase exposure to arts and extracurricular programs and would increase teacher and student employment.
As a former teacher, a former member of the SDPBC Board of Education, and the Mayor of a world class city, I am encouraged about the steps being taken at Boca High to examine whether a Charter School will provide a world class education for our children.
The next step in the review of the Charter School alternative is for the Boca High School Advisory Board to decide to allow parents and teachers to vote on whether the school should be converted to a charter school.
I hope the discussion and the presentation of facts continues so that an informed vote on this important issue can be made.