District Official: We Have School Sites But No Funding

Kristin Garrison, director of planning for the Palm Beach County School District, answered questions from Wellington Education Committee members Tuesday about new boundaries resulting from future development in the western communities.

The planned developments will have minimal impact on Wellington schools initially, but new schools will be necessary as the new developments are completed, Garrison said.

Acting Chair John Webber said that the committee had requested that a school district official explain how Wellington schools would be affected.

“A lot of parents have expressed some concerns [about] the number of communities coming in,” Webber said. “These are not small communities, and they are being marketed to families, so we’re trying to find out what the boundary effects would be. Such as, which schools would be affected and what kind of ripple effect that would have.”

Webber said committee members also wanted to learn about the opportunities they would have to give input into the process.

Garrison said there is a lot of residential growth anticipated in the western communities, more than 15,000 units and growing.

“That’s going to be happening over a very long planning horizon,” she said. “The very first units that we’re expecting based on the information we’re receiving will be in 2017 and continuing all the way to 2041.”

Garrison said developers can give the school district detailed information on initial construction, but that subsequent building relies heavily on the market.

“We really don’t have definite data on that, and that’s OK, because in school district projections, once you get beyond a five-year planning horizon, you really can’t rely on them for major decisions,” she said, explaining that the past 15 years have seen the advent of such variables as charter schools, class size reduction and controlled open enrollment planned for next year.

“There are so many moving parts we have to try to track for our enrollment projections that you really have to be agile and react as these environmental things occur,” she said.

So it can be responsive, each October the school district counts student enrollment for planning purposes, Garrison said.

“That’s the most important count, because it’s the most reliable count for planning purposes,” she said.

That forms the basis for the next year’s projections.

“We look at areas where we see a crowding problem, especially if there are schools in one area that are experiencing growth,” she said. “That’s when we then look at planning strategies, including a boundary change.”

The area that the school district was most immediately concerned about was the Westlake development. The first phases of that project will be built soon, and the area is assigned to the already overcrowded Western Pines Middle School.

“We’re really not in a position to take on any more students at that school,” she said. “We don’t feel that it’s good for the school, so we are in the process right now of conducting a boundary change that would move the part of Westlake that’s assigned to Western Pines.”

Those students will now attend Osceola Creek Middle School.

Garrison said boundary maps for Wellington’s schools currently extend out to 20-Mile Bend because it was anticipated at one point that those areas might be annexed into the village.

“That hasn’t been much of an issue because you haven’t had that many students coming from that area,” she said.

However, there will be some students coming to Wellington schools from the planned 2,000-home Arden community near 20-Mile Bend, as well as students coming from outside of Wellington due to reassignment or choice programs.

“I think your high school has about 250 students or more who come in from outside the Village of Wellington,” she said.

Webber said it appeared that Arden would have the most immediate effect on Wellington schools, and Garrison said that is the only planned residential community with an immediate impact on Wellington.

She pointed out that there are school sites owned by or dedicated to the school district.

“Arden is one of the first to dedicate an elementary school site, so we do have a very recent dedication of an elementary school site there,” Garrison said.

Webber asked whether any money has been dedicated. Garrison said there is no money for that purpose. She explained that the school district will not be able to take on more debt until the sales tax recently approved by voters expires. That extra penny in sales tax is dedicated to catching up on school infrastructure that has fallen behind since the recession.

“The new schools come on in the outer years of our planning horizon, the fifth through 10th year, when we are able to issue debt again,” Garrison said. “Unless we find some other creative ways to finance the schools, we really don’t have funding allocated yet, but the good news is that we do have some school sites, so when we have funding available, we will be able to do that.”