Even though the number of safety problems inspectors found at Palm Beach County schools went down slightly this year, school board members fret that continued capital budget shortfalls could hamper — or even reverse — that progress.
Board members, who will review more than 3,200 safety citations during today’s meeting, say they want to make sure the district keeps chipping away at fixing everything from broken door locks to cracking sidewalks as the district’s capital funding goes from bad to worse.
“I’m pleased with the progress that has been made, but I want us to keep making it a top priority,” Board Chairman Chuck Shaw said. “If I had my way, I would put all the money in to just do it all now; but we just don’t have the capital money to do it.”
A school district report, last year, estimated that it could cost as much as $25 million to fix all of the 3,335 safety citations found by inspectors. That number fell slightly to 3,279 this school year. But the district still faced an estimated $60 million hole in next year’s capital budget before making deep cuts — like canceling several school construction and design projects.
Already, district treasurer Leanne Evans is forecasting a capital funding shortfall for the 2014-2015 school year could be as deep as $80 million.
According to the district, the 2011-2012 school year was the first time in 12 years that the number of citations had gone up. Still, the number of safety issues is still roughly 93 percent lower than it was in 2000, when more than 47,000 safety citations were found.
District officials have attributed that drop over the last decade to older schools being modernized. For example, three older schools in the district — North Palm Beach, Glade View and Rosenwald elementaries — are in the process of being demolished and rebuilt.
Board member Frank Barbieri said many of the safety citations are likely for minor things like a broken door latch.
Tony Rivas, district chief of support operations, said any citation found that poses a more serious risk to students or the public is fixed right away. But with the current funding and staffing levels for maintenance, he said, the district has reached a sort of “plateau” when it comes to fixing the minor safety issues.
“Long term, it appears that we probably will be successful in keeping the number of citations at current levels,” Rivas said in an e-mail response to a reporter’s questions. “We have no new large scale (comprehensive safety inspection reports) projects now in production, but will keep focusing on the correction of items that are reported.”
Lake Worth High School had the highest number of any school with 130 citations this year, a 27 percent increase over last year. Principal George Lockhart could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Barbieri said he is concerned because a number of schools the Boca Raton area — including Whispering Pines, Sunrise Park, Verde, Addison Mizner, and Del Prado elementaries and Boca Raton middle and high schools — saw increases in the number of safety citations.
He is asking district officials for more information on how serious are the issues that were found at those schools.
“If they are not truly life-safety type issues there is no money to fix it. There are too many other needs,” Barbieri said. “If they are life safety issues, then they have to be fixed immediately and we have to find the money.”
Safety code citations
The following schools received the most citations for fire safety code violations this school year:
- Lake Worth High School: 130
- Verde Elementary School: 107
- West Boca High School: 74
- Riviera Beach Preparatory Academy: 72
- William T. Dwyer High School: 69
- Spanish River High School: 68
- Belle Glade Elementary School: 64
- Jupiter High School: 63
- Inlet Grove High School: 61
- Palm Beach Central High School: 59
- Boca Raton High School: 58
Source: Palm Beach County School District.