The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board received an update on school funding and school safety efforts from Palm Beach County School Board Member Marcia Andrews on Monday, May 14.
With high school graduations and summer vacation approaching, Andrews provided the board with information on some of the improvements that the school district hopes to accomplish before August.
Primarily, improvements continue to center on the efforts to harden schools and make them safer for children after the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14.
“We are going to be actively involved throughout the summer with a lot of issues relating to safety, and more funding for teachers as we move forward to begin a new school year in August, making sure that children are safe and that we have everything necessary to start a new year on track,” Andrews said.
Board Member David Kendle noted several of the intricacies with the additional school funding. He asked Andrews what Royal Palm Beach schools would experience as a result of the extra money from Tallahassee to increase security measures.
“When we look at our budget, we see that the State of Florida really does not fund its schools properly; we are [rated] about 47th,” Andrews explained. “And, when we start thinking about security issues, the governor has given us some money for this year, but it is not concurrent, it is not going to keep [coming]. We are going to beg for it to keep [coming] because we know we need it.”
With the new funds distributed after the Parkland shooting, the district will be hiring new police officers and more mental health counselors, as well as funding necessary safety equipment for schools like buzzer systems or improved fencing.
“We are going to be hiring 75 new police officers for the fall, mental health counselors and hardening our schools — just a lot of things that need to happen,” Andrews said.
She explained that the district hopes to have at least one police officer and mental health counselor at every school, acknowledging that it is a difficult task to hire so many qualified professionals in such a short amount of time.
Andrews stressed that funding will remain a huge issue because the schools statewide only received extra funding this year as a result of a tragedy.
“I do believe that we are doing a great job educating the children of Palm Beach County,” she said. “We know that the state hasn’t done their part, and we are expecting them to step up and do better. But we’ve been expecting that for a long time. We continuously ask for more and get less. However, we are really thankful for what the governor did for safety.”
The board and Andrews continued to express the importance of getting the public to understand that the additional funding for safety was a one-time expenditure.
“What is going to happen next year? One of the problems is that I don’t think the community understands that this is like a one-shot deal,” Kendle said.
Andrews explained that the school district is focusing on doing polling throughout the district to measure the public’s knowledge on school funding, in order to educate people on the reality of it.
Along with school safety, a priority for Andrews and the school district is improving teacher salaries.
“If we want to keep the best and the brightest in our schools, we have to pay [our teachers] accordingly. The state continuously just knocks down the money relating to teacher salaries and capital funding,” she said. “This year, everything was moved for safety. Money that may have been going to other places had to be moved into the pot for safety.”
Also at Monday’s meeting, Councilman Jeff Hmara presented Education Advisory Board Chair Kevin Abel with a certificate of appreciation before he makes his move to Mobile, Ala., where he will serve as vice president of student affairs at Spring Hill College.
“I would like to memorialize our gratitude [with] this certificate,” Hmara said. “Kevin, we really appreciate everything that you brought to this board, which included not only extraordinary expertise and a tremendous amount of impact, but [also] that you have invested interest in this community. You were willing to take the time away from a very busy schedule to bring that expertise to this group. You made a big difference.”
Abel served as chair of the Education Advisory Board for two years.
“It has been an honor to interact with the schools and community this way,” he said. “I appreciate my time on the board and getting to work with each one of you.”