Summer Sizzle (Fizzle) in Broward County, Florida

By Margery Marcus

ft lauderdaleThe Broward County School District is upset.  Broward County has nearly two million people who live in relatively small cities.  Ft. Lauderdale, its largest city has fewer than 200, 000 people.  It is one of those pretty, but large beach towns.  One third (100) of their schools are charters, but they enroll only 15% of the school population.  Thus, there must be a lot of small charter schools.

Some charters with a high percentage of children from lower income families do well.  Some charters have very nice facilities.  There is once again, more to the story.  Margery’s report will give you some clues about what is happening.

The Broward School Board saw red in the Florida Auditor General’s recently released audit report. Twenty-five percent of its charter schools finished the 2013-2014 school year with a deficit. The 23 Broward schools listed in the report posted deficits ranging from a low of $4591 to a high of $318,567.

Broward, of course, is not alone in having charter schools in the red, but it exceeded both Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in its numbers. The former had 7% of its schools cited in the report, while the latter had 15 %.

Schools showing deficits may not necessarily be on their way to closing, however, according to an article in the Sun-Sentinel. A school’s parent company may choose to offset the debt, or schools may have a plan to pay off the debt, or may have assets valued at more than deficits.

Indeed, charter school openings are far outpacing closings in Broward. The most recent information provided by the school district’s Office of Public Information, lists the closing of eight charters this past school year, while 21 new ones have been approved for next year. Of the 21, two (Doral Academy’s bid to open a middle and high school in Tamarac) will not open due to successful lobbying by the King’s Point retirement community.

Most of the remaining 19 charters replicate other high-performing ones in the district. For instance, Charter Schools USA currently manages 18 schools in South Florida, 8 of which are in Broward. They are slated to open five more in the district this fall.

One of its current Broward eight is Coral Springs Charter School, which it manages for that city. The 1600-plus student school, sitting squarely in the middle of the city’s “downtown,” has proved a traffic nightmare at drop off and dismissal times for drivers. More than that, however, the land it occupies has long been eyeballed for redevelopment by city fathers.

Jointly, city officials and the charter school company have held public information meetings to gain support for the moving the school. The proposal involves relocating the school to a parking lot on the grounds of the city’s Center for the Arts. The plan calls for an enrollment increase of 500 students plus the construction of a three story parking garage to replace parking spaces that will be lost to school construction.

Residents in the area near the new site are already expressing concern about traffic congestion, but currently there does not seem to be a concentrated effort to head off the relocation.

Meanwhile, in nearby Parkland, the charter school company Academica, under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education last year, has approached city officials about opening a charter school in that city. Parkland officials, right now, are hoping to convince the Broward School Board to build a K-8 school there. If not successful, however, Parkland could be hosting another Broward charter school.

Posted in Authorization, Charter School Management, Charter Schools, Funding.

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