Charter school gets thumbs down from Royal Palm Beach board

The recommendation from the Education Advisory Board was clear, resolute and unanimous: The village should not allow a charter high school to be built on 10 acres of village-owned land, and right across the street from Royal Palm Beach High School.

“How are our students better served as a result of this?” asked Board Chairman Lynn Balch at Monday night’s meeting. “Honestly, there wasn’t a good answer.”

Flagler Realty & Development, a West Palm Beach commercial real estate company, has proposed buying two parcels north of Okeechobee Boulevard, east of First Baptist Church where it would like to build a 1,200-student charter high school to be run by Charter Schools USA.

But the five-member board had many concerns, including increased traffic, the detrimental impact the new school could have on Royal Palm Beach High School, how the governing board runs the school and what niche it would serve.

Those concerns were voiced at a highly charged, two-hour workshop on March 2 where no one from the public who spoke supported the school, a result Balch said was disappointing.

“It would have been more useful to have input from people in favor of it,” he said. “It was like we had a ballgame, but one team brought their manager and no players.”

A fifteen minute presentation was made by Richard Page, executive vice president of development at Charter Schools USA, at the March 2 workshop.

That the board received no input from teachers, students and parents saying why a charter high school makes sense, demonstrated how disconnected the education managers are from the community, said Board Member Chris-Anne Ayers.

“Let them find another location,” she said. “All the power to them.”

Vice Chairman David Kendle said he didn’t like that there wouldn’t be anyone from Palm Beach County or Royal Palm Beach on the school’s governing board.

“There would be no community input,” Kendle said. “The management board doesn’t live anywhere near Royal Palm Beach. They’re spread out all over the place.”

Kendle said he was also concerned how Scott Woodrey, president of Red Apple Development, the development arm of Charter Schools USA, bluntly told the board at the March 2 workshop that if the proposed site doesn’t work, the company will just find another one.

“I thought that was quite arrogant to come before a board when you’re looking for help to get a school open,” he said.

Board Member Renatta Espinoza pointed out how charter schools don’t use the same Palm Beach County School District diagnostic to track student performance and how that could pose a problem if a student enrolls in the charter school and then decides to leave.

“It could be difficult to track a student’s records,” Espinoza said.

The board is scheduled to present its findings to the council at the April 2 meeting.

“No one is questioning if (Charter Schools USA) can run a school,” Balch said. “We’re looking at what need would be filled. All we heard was a sales pitch about their organization. That land can be used for a number of other things.”

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