The Palm Beach County School District had to slash millions of dollars in construction and maintenance projects in order to balance next year’s capital improvement budget, and the problem will only get worse, top officials warned the school board Wednesday.
“There is no money for construction,” said district Treasurer Leanne Evans, briefing board members on next year’s $440 million capital improvement budget — which is about $75 million lower than this year.
Mike Burke, the district’s chief operating officer, said the cuts were precipitated by years of decreasing property tax revenues.
Cuts include putting off $12.5 million worth of design work on projects like a new bus compound on Belvedere Road, Riviera Beach High School and arts magnet middle school in southern Palm Beach County. They also include delaying about $7.2 million of renovations to the former Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach for the proposed Roosevelt Leadership Academy for Young Men and for new athletic fields at Village Academy in Delray Beach. In addition, the district is proposing to put off $10.5 million is basic maintenance needs.
Board member Marcia Andrews was particularly concerned about the proposed elimination of money for the Belvedere Road bus compound. Neighbors complained about traffic at the existing compound in Royal Palm Beach, and the village cited the district for having more buses than were approved for the site. The district and village reached an agreement, but it is predicated upon the district moving its compound out of Royal Palm Beach by 2016.
To do that, Andrews says, the district needs to build the Belvedere compound, and soon.
“There is an agreement out there,” she said. “There is a timeline to move.”
Evans said next year’s anticipated shortfalls are only expected to get worse for the 2015-18 school years.
Board Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson said members should discuss partnering with county government to propose a referendum for something like a sales tax to fund some of the construction needs. She questioned how the district would ever be able to modernize such older schools as Wynnebrook Elementary in West Palm Beach and Addison Mizner Elementary in Boca Raton without such funding.
In other business, the board approved a new job description revamping the chief public information officer job currently held by Nat Harrington, who is retiring next month. The revamped position, which will be called manager of communications and carries a salary of $74,000 to $110,000, would be filled as soon as possible.