By Charles Elmore
Palm Beach County’s first new high school since 2005 will open west of Lake Worth next fall, but there is “uproar in Wellington,” as one village official put it, about proposals that could reassign hundreds of Wellington students to a school well outside the community.
The feedback comes as county officials try to figure out how to draw the boundary map for Dr. Joaquín García High School, set to open in August on Lyons Road, north of Lantana Road in unincorporated Lake Worth.
Wellington residents have argued for keeping students at schools within municipal boundaries as much as possible, citing, for example, the fact that the village provides grants to help boost local schools.
“All of our students have always gone to the two Wellington high schools, Wellington High School and Palm Beach Central,” Councilman John McGovern said. “That should continue.”
Pushback from Wellington residents ranked among the two most commonly heard concerns at a Thursday, Dec. 8 meeting of the school district’s Advisory Boundary Committee, alongside parents worried their children could be reassigned to other schools from Park Vista High School.
A common refrain from parents is they have moved to communities specifically for highly rated schools, only to find children separated from friends or sent to schools not necessarily holding the same academic track record.
School district planners say that they need to find some way to relieve overcrowding at half a dozen existing high schools, including Palm Beach Central, which serves Wellington’s eastern neighborhoods. It is operating at 109 percent of its planned capacity, officials said.
“We’ve got to relieve these six schools,” said Jason Link, manager of school enrollment and demographics for the Palm Beach County School District. “We’ve got one relief school, really, that’s a brand-new school, beautiful, modern, state of the art.”
Three possible boundary plans to redistribute students were presented at the committee’s Dec. 8 meeting, but all involve considerably more than one new school’s map. Ripple effects of moving students cascade through various schools and affect nearly half of the countywide school district as a whole, from the ocean to the county’s southern border.
Social media posts from Wellington residents have advised parents in The Isles, Grand Isles, Wellington Shores and Versailles neighborhoods that their students could be zoned to leave Palm Beach Central for Garcia.
The first plan presented, for example, would move 495 students from Palm Beach Central’s boundary to Garcia in the first year, and up to 650 in later years, officials said. At the same time, Palm Beach Central would take some students from crowded high schools to its east, with the goal to keep the net student population at Palm Beach Central closer to its designed capacity of 2,744 students.
Two other proposals offer slight alternatives, but much of the discussion in the boundary committee revolved around possible revisions to the first plan.
Garcia is forecast to host about 2,500 students by the 2027-28 school year. It is named after Dr. Joaquín García, a Cuban-born local businessman who was a founding member and chair of the Hispanic Education Coalition of Palm Beach County. He died in 2021.
The boundary committee plans to meet again Tuesday, Dec. 20 to study options, including possibly tweaking plans for Park Vista and Palm Beach Central, though comments among committee members did not suggest any quick or simple consensus for what to do about the Wellington students.
The committee’s job in advising the school district and the superintendent is to think about issues such as school capacity across the county, and not only what is best from the point of view of an individual neighborhood or municipality, members reminded listeners.
“I hear everybody’s concern,” said Nancy Gribble, an Advisory Boundary Committee member. “We’re a Palm Beach County school district. We’re not a village district. We’re not a municipality.”
One idea, raised by Wellington Village Manager Jim Barnes, is exploring whether the county could give more students to Wellington High School to help relieve Palm Beach Central, though county officials note that Wellington High School is running at about 99 percent capacity now.
Barnes said a planned western-area high school in five years could eventually ease crowding at the two Wellington high schools, even if they face congestion in the short run.
“I realize this is a very tough job,” said John Webber, a member of Wellington’s Education Committee, at the Dec. 8 meeting. “But it’s important that the village speaks up.”
Members of the public can comment at the school district’s Advisory Boundary Committee virtual meeting set for Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. Check the school district’s online meeting calendar for details.
Comments can also be sent via e-mail to email@example.com.