Parents in West Boynton push for neighborhood charter schools

Parents from unincorporated west Boynton Beach, unhappy with what they say is a lack of a community middle school and high school, are trying to create a charter school for their neighborhood.

"There is an urgent need for a quality public middle and high school to serve the families in the Canyon area," said west Boynton resident Eleni Pantaridis in a statement she released on behalf of the Canyon Area Parents for a Neighborhood Charter School.

Pantaridis said her group has come up with a proposal that will help the district open a charter school with "little or no financial impact on their limited budget." In the statement, she did not provide details about the school's location or how it would be funded.

The group plans to present the idea to the Palm Beach County School Board, which has the ultimate authority to approve charter schools, on Wednesday .

Ken Lassiter, president of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, which has been working with the parents, said they want to build the charter school just south of Sunset Palms Elementary School, on Boynton Beach Boulevard west of Florida's Turnpike.

A 33-acre parcel was donated to the school district by developer GL Homes as part of an agreement with Palm Beach County in 2006, said Kevin Ratterree, GL Homes' vice president of land management. The land was to be used for a possible elementary school and middle school.

The district built Sunset Palms but did not build a middle school on the remaining 17 acres. Pantaridis said thousands of parents bought homes in the area because they expected a new middle school.

"Right now, students are attending school far from home, creating incredible hardships for students, particularly those who want to participate in after-school activities," she said, adding that high school students travel 30 minutes to Olympic Heights High west of Boca Raton.

School district officials have said that nearby middle schools are not overcrowded and that they do not have the money to build schools beyond the ones already approved for the next 10 to 15 years.

Most of the west Boynton neighborhoods around the Canyon developments are within the attendance boundaries of Odyssey Middle School, near Jog and Woolbright roads.

Some parents have been trying since February to get the district to change Odyssey's boundaries, claiming that students from eastern Boynton Beach have caused safety and discipline problems. According to the district, 594 students within the middle school's boundaries attended other schools this year.

In an email last week, parent Aimee Cohen mentioned the possibility of a charter school next to Sunset Palms Elementary as an option to get a "safe neighborhood middle school for our children."

Lynn Norman-Teck, director of communications for the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, said she was contacted by the west Boynton parents and provided them with information on how to start one.

"They've been doing a lot of research," Norman-Teck said. "They're the most motivated parents I've ever seen."

The biggest hurdle they face is getting the money to build the school. Joe Sanches, the school district's facilities management chief, said the district could lease the land to a charter school but could not provide capital funds to build the school. GL Homes would be willing to provide planning and land design, but not funding to build the school, Ratterree said.

"The group will have to go to a nonprofit," Norman-Teck said.

Most start-up charter schools typically have to find a nonprofit agency willing to put up the funds to build a new school, she said. Another option is leasing space in a church or strip mall.

 


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