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'We're not going to piecemeal it': Broward could close many more than five schools in coming years

Peter Licata answers questions from members of a community board on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.
Gerard Albert III
Peter Licata answers questions from members of a community board on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

Broward County Public Schools officials may close many more than just five schools in the coming years.

With more than 54,000 empty seats in classrooms across the district and enrollment expected to continue its downward slide, Superintendent Peter Licata is laying out the possibility of closing many schools at once.

“Depending on who you talk to … we have a lot of schools that probably need to be repurposed and closed,” Licata said at a Broward County School Board workshop this week, in response to questions about under-enrolled schools from Board Member Daniel Foganholi. “I don't want to die 1,000 deaths.”

‘Ripping the Band-Aid off’

The board initially directed Licata to draft a plan to repurpose at least five schools for the 2025-2026 school year, which could include closing or consolidating campuses.

But speaking at the board workshop this week, Foganholi threw out a much larger number — 40 schools.

“I think everybody on this board, everybody on staff, people in the community are very clear that we're about 40 schools oversized,” Foganholi said. “We know that that's the step we need to take. But the question really is, are we slowly ripping the Band-Aid off? Or are we ready to just go all in and do what's best for our community, best for our budgets, best for our staff?”

READ MORE: Declining enrollment means Broward schools have to change. Here’s how to shape those decisions

Licata thanked Foganholi for broaching the issue, which came during a discussion on the district’s facilities plans.

Licata shared that based on conversations he’s had with superintendents in communities like Houston and San Antonio, closing or consolidating more schools at once — instead of dragging it out over a number of years — may be a better course of action.

“I have spoken with several superintendents that have done this successfully. Actually I spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone with a superintendent who did it successfully back in 2018 in a district that looks a lot like us,” Licata added. “And they did 20 schools in one year.”

‘I am not closing 40 or 60 schools’

Board Member Nora Rupert pushed back on the prospect of closing 40 schools at once, saying that at this point she would not support such a drastic step.

“As one board member, I'm gonna tell you from right now — I am not closing 40 or 60 schools,” Rupert said “Because schools are the heartbeat of every community.”

Rupert questioned whether the district could even carry out such a complex logistical feat.

“Is it even possible to go through boundary processes, registration? We've already had open houses,” she added. “I’m a little verklempt. Let’s just say that.”

BCPS is undertaking a larger effort it’s calling “Redefining Our Schools”, to strategically assess campuses across the county for potential consolidation, closure or redirection in order to better utilize the district’s dwindling resources.

The board hasn’t made any decisions yet about which schools may be closed. But the district has released a list of 67 schools across the county that are currently classified as under-enrolled, sparking anxiety among parents and community leaders — and rumors on social media — about the fate of the campuses.

“I would like to ask my colleagues to just have the same message. That at least five [schools] — it may be more — but at least five are coming to us. And we're going to vote on that together as a board,” said Board Vice Chair Debbi Hixon.

“It's not right for us as individual board members to go to cities and tell them we know what schools are going to be closed. Because that's not true.”

More board workshops scheduled for March, May

For years, BCPS has been rocked by dysfunction, distrust and devastating tragedy. The prospect of closing or consolidating potentially dozens of schools would be one of the greatest challenges the district has faced in recent years.

Board members — and the community — are waiting for a more detailed assessment of what has contributed to the decline of the under-enrolled schools — and what those campuses would need to reverse those trends.

Licata says staff are analyzing the schools across a number of factors, including low enrollment, facilities needs, program offerings, community birth rates, school leadership and nearby competition from private or charter schools.

“You could put six or seven boxes of criteria,” Licata explained. “And then start looking at schools and saying, 'Well this one fits in every box. Why is it going to be open?' [or] 'This one only has one or two boxes.'”

Licata plans to present a much more detailed proposal at a board workshop on the “Redefining Our Schools” effort on Wednesday, March 20. A second workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, with a final board vote slated for June.

“We're going to look at this thing. And we're going to look at it big. We're not going to piecemeal it,” Licata said.

“I believe in my heart as the leader, that if we were to piecemeal this, we would be our own worst enemy. And we would not be transparent.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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