The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board made a unanimous recommendation Monday that the Royal Palm Beach Village Council not allow a charter high school to be built directly across the street from Royal Palm Beach High School.
The board, at the direction of the council, heard presentations on March 2 by representatives of Charter Schools USA, as well as representatives from the Palm Beach County School District, including RPBHS Principal Jesus Armas, School Board Member Marcia Andrews and Jim Pegg, director of charter schools for the school district.
Chairman Lynn Balch said the village had been asked to sell two parcels of land totaling about 10 acres directly east of the First Baptist Church of Royal Palm Beach on the north side of Okeechobee Blvd. to build a charter high school. The council is set to discuss the issue again on April 2.
Balch said the board also took public input at the March 2 meeting, mostly against the charter high school.
“It would have been more useful, honestly, to have heard from some people who were in favor of it,” he said. “Our 800 kids who go to Renaissance Charter School at Palms West, there must be somebody who knows why they are going there, and I would think somebody there would tell us.”
Board Member Chris-Anne Ayers said she felt it was most important to further facilitate the good standing of the public high school and to protect the interests they have worked to improve.
“Principal Jesus Armas has worked with us to establish and really put it at the forefront of it all,” she said.
Board Member David Kendle asked what a charter high school would bring that they don’t already have at RPBHS.
“We have a great-performing school; grades are coming up steadily lately,” Kendle said. “I’m also concerned about the effect it’s going to have on the village for the traffic. I’m concerned about the homeowners living in close proximity to that school.”
Kendle also felt that charter schools do not have enough community input. “The management of that school, the board of that school, doesn’t live anywhere near Royal Palm Beach,” he said.
He was also concerned that the charter school would be taking money out of the public schools.
“I know sometimes they close for financial reasons,” he said. “None of that money is able to be recouped by the state or the school board.”
He also felt that the charter school representatives only showed the grades of better schools in their system.
“It’s a closed company — you can’t find out their finances, what their executives make — and we were told in no uncertain terms we wouldn’t have access to it. I would like to know where my tax money is going,” he said.
Board Member Klemie Christie said she was not against charter schools but thought that in their conversations with the charter school representatives, they could not provide a niche that the public school does not provide.
“We have a community school, and in order to keep it a community school, we need to keep that separation,” she said. “Perhaps if they picked another location and showed us there was a niche for this school, but across the street from a viable high school within our community? I could not say in good conscience it’s a good idea.”
Board Member Renatta Espinoza said she shared the other board members’ concerns.
“My concern is also, just their data, the students’ performance, because they don’t use any of the district diagnostics, and they’re only based on what’s up north that they use,” she said. “I have a big concern. You open a charter school across from a high school. The student doesn’t want to go there anymore and goes back to the regular district school. There’s no data on that student, therefore it’s going to be very difficult to track that student’s record.”
She shared concerns that the governing board is not local. “The ultimate say is the management company, so I have a big problem with that,” Espinoza said.
Balch felt the crux was what the charter high school could offer that the public school did not. “Honestly, there was not a good answer,” he said.
Espinoza made a motion to recommend that the council not sell the land to the charter school, which carried unanimously.
Balch said he would prepare a report to submit to the council.