Committee Supports Plan Leaving Wellington Students At PBCHS

Amid debate about whether Wellington “got its way,” Greenacres officials and others are taking their concerns to the Palm Beach County School Board as it prepares to make the final call on a boundary map for a new high school west of Lake Worth.

Unlike the first proposal before the school district’s Advisory Boundary Committee, the latest plan approved by the panel and bound for Superintendent Mike Burke keeps hundreds of Wellington students in place at Palm Beach Central High School.

All eyes now turn to meetings that lie ahead to determine who attends Dr. Joaquín García High School, set to open in August on Lyons Road in suburban Lake Worth.

“The superintendent will make a final recommendation to the school board, and that recommendation may be the same as the [committee’s] recommendation or it may differ,” said a statement from the School District of Palm Beach County.

In turn, the school board can follow the superintendent’s recommendation or make changes of its own, officials said.

A workshop and first reading of the proposed boundary could occur at the school board meeting Feb. 15, with a second reading scheduled for March 29, according to the district’s statement.

Wellington residents and leaders spoke out in force in boundary committee meetings and sent hundreds of pages of e-mails, citing the village’s top-rated schools, municipal grants for education and academic specialty programs as sound reasons to favor what some called “continuity.”

But Greenacres leaders note that their students risk being sent to five different high schools from a city of 6.1 square miles, while Wellington gets to keep its students within the village.

The Greenacres City Council passed a resolution asking the school board to “fairly and appropriately approve the attendance zone for the new high school” with “a focus on student-to-school proximity and not further divide the high school population of the City of Greenacres.”

Wellington Councilwoman Tanya Siskind said that the village “has been portrayed a little bit as getting everything we want, and we’re somehow different from the other communities.”

She noted she was a six-year PTA president at one of the village’s elementary schools and served many hours volunteering.

“I can tell you we have parents working three jobs,” Siskind said. “We have students who need shoes and school supplies. I just want to say we all have similar concerns when it comes to our students and families, and Wellington is no different.”

Tensions bubbled up in a Jan. 12 meeting of the Advisory Boundary Committee before it approved a seventh version of the boundary map, which Wellington residents supported.

The panel decided to meet again Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. to review a one-page summary of its recommendations.

“I have nothing against Wellington, but Wellington has gotten everything it asked for,” Committee Member Mabel Melton said. “Something I’ve noticed is Greenacres is busing kids to five different high schools. I’d like somebody to tell me what’s fair about that.”

Others took a different view, including Committee Member Stephen Levin, a resident of Wellington.

He argued that allowing students in a tract known as 179a in southeastern Wellington to continue attending Palm Beach Central instead of the closer Garcia does not violate guidelines against creating a “finger” or “island” in a school district. It also does not isolate students along ethnic or racial lines, he said.

“Those students are already attending Palm Beach Central,” Levin said. “Wellington is not ‘getting its way,’ as I understand it.”

He said, instead, that parents are being heard in a public process operating as it should.

Now, as that process continues, other communities are making a case of their own.

“All municipalities understand the need for a strong sense of community, as this is paramount to our success, but it is our hope that decisions are not being made to prioritize one community’s desire for a sense of community over another’s,” Greenacres City Manager Andrea McCue wrote to the committee.

After moving a parcel between the two village high schools, the latest plan leaves Wellington High School operating at a projected 110 percent of designed capacity and Palm Beach Central at 101 percent in five years.

A new high school planned for the western communities in six years could relieve that congestion, supporters of the current plan say.

Nicole Warren, who described herself in e-mailed comments as a resident of western Lake Worth and tentatively zoned for Garcia, wrote to “object to any boundary maps that cut out Wellington communities and Park Vista students from being drawn into the new high school.”

Drawing from those neighboring districts “will not only guarantee an adequate population mix, but also set better academic standards to a brand-new school, which should be one of your top goals,” she wrote.

Wellington resident Susan Perconte said she took “great offense” to committee members “calling Wellington out.” The students have roots and support in the village, she wrote, and should not be pushed into a new school “still looking for teachers, football coaches, band directors, etc.”

Garcia, Palm Beach County’s first new high school since 2005 in the nation’s 10th largest school district, is forecast to hold about 2,500 students by the 2027-28 school year. It is named after the late Dr. Joaquín García, a Cuban-born businessman who chaired the Hispanic Education Coalition of Palm Beach County.

The boundary committee’s role is to make a recommendation to the superintendent based on studies and adjustments that members requested after public input, Committee Chair Cinthia Becton said.

“The superintendent would take that under advisement,” Becton said. “Whether he would agree with it or not, or make that recommendation to the school board, becomes an administrative decision.”

The final decision rests with the school board, she noted.