Why packed high schools will burst at the seams again next year

The boundaries for next school year are now set in Palm Beach County, with changes in place to relieve crowding at Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton and Forest Hill High in West Palm Beach.

Those changes involved shuffling hundreds of students at 10 schools. No more changes can be made until the cycle begins anew next year. And the challenges are plenty.

Short of building or closing schools, boundary changes are the most expedient way to balance enrollment among campuses. The moves will provide a little more breathing room come August at the district’s two most crowded schools. But that still leaves most high schools in a pinch to take any more students than they already have, while several middle schools sit half empty.

How crowded are those high schools?

Forest Hill High is so packed that at least 24 teachers don’t have their own classrooms. The school has more than 2,460 students in buildings designed to hold 1,837. The boundary switch will send 182 students living north of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard to a school closer to their home — Palm Beach Lakes High. Still Forest Hill will be beyond capacity and no other nearby school has room to take the students.

The county’s high schools are so full that when open enrollment was announced, more than one parent griped to see that only three high schools — two of them in the Glades — had enough room to take students from outside their typical boundaries.

Nine of 23 high schools are filled beyond capacity; five more are at 95 percent capacity or beyond.

Two new high schools are slated to be built with money from the sales tax increase approved in November. One would rise somewhere west of Royal Palm Beach, the other at Lyons Road between Lantana and Lake Worth roads. But they are years in the future.

Meanwhile, eight of the county’s 33 middle schools have at least one third of their seats empty, as calculated by the state. Six are closer to half full: Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Carver in Delray Beach, Crestwood in Royal Palm Beach, John F. Kennedy in Riviera Beach, Lake Shore in Belle Glade and Odyssey in Boynton Beach.

The culprit? Charter schools and other choice options within the district, said Jason Link, the district’s enrollment expert.

The district has made some moves to address these matters. Most recently some of these middle schools received grant money to beef up choice offerings and attract more students.

It’s a plan that worked almost too well for Forest Hill High, which was losing students until it opened an International Baccalaureate program and several other magnets.

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