Proposed cuts would close four schools, eliminate 578 positions
By Chris Fish
VIERA -- Space Coast students, teachers and parents will have to wait until Feb. 12 to determine if four Brevard County public schools will be forced to close, leaving many residents both anxious and concerned.
In front of a packed house on Jan. 22, the board ultimately voted 4-1 to delay its decision to close the potential schools, citing the possibility of refinancing its debt to offset the closures.
If approved, the schools on the chopping block are Gardendale Elementary on Merritt Island, Sea Park Elementary on Satellite Beach, South Lake Elementary in Titusville and Clearlake Middle School in Cocoa.
The decision to postpone the issue was met with criticism from District 3 Board Member and Vice Chairwoman Amy Kneessy, who proposed a vote that would fully take the three elementary schools out of consideration to be cut.
"I, for one, do not want to put this community through another three weeks of blood, sweat and tears," she said, garnering applause from the audience. "I, personally, want to end it tonight."
In response to Ms. Kneessy's concerns, District 5 Board Member Andy Ziegler said he felt the board did not have enough information to make a decision at this time.
"I can understand wanting to get it over with. I surely don't want to drag it on anymore," he said. "I am very concerned about our cuts dropping any further."
The proposed closures initially came about as a way for the school board to alleviate the more than $30 million in debt the district faces.
The board made a list of proposed budget cuts, after voters rejected a half-cent sales tax in November that would have raised $32 million annually for the board's budget. This tax was estimated to have cost the average household with an annual income of $50,000 an extra $12.50 per year.
Richard Smith, a Brevard resident, said during the public comment portion of the meeting, that 68 percent of teachers voted "yes" in favor of the proposed tax.
"None of us are happy with (this measure failing)," he said, expressing his opposition of the potential school closures.
"The people who we should be speaking to are not in this room tonight," he said. "We cannot have the attack on public education that has been going on for the last five years. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and say 'Have I done what I should have done as a citizen?"'
The board's proposed cuts and revenue enhancements include the closing of the four schools, the elimination of more than 100 elementary art and music teachers, the elimination of more than 25 guidance service professional positions, establishing a pay-to-participate fee for athletics and eliminating summer opportunities for secondary course or credit recovery.
The proposed cuts and revenue enhancements are estimated to raise the board's debt $38,758,668, while eliminating some 578 positions.
"We love this school," said Karie Mancini, whose daughter is a third-grader at Sea Park Elementary. "These closures will not only affect the students and the staff, they will have an impact on the entire community."
Those opposed to the school closures have also gained support from members of the Brevard County Commission, who voted unanimously Jan. 29 on a resolution to oppose the closures that are currently being considered by the school board.
During the meeting, commissioners said their goal was to work with the school system to find alternatives before the school board votes on the closings Feb. 12.
According to www.fsba.org, the Brevard School Board averaged an annual salary of $38,344 for the 2012-13 school year, earning a spot as one of the top 10 paid school boards in the state.
Forums to gain input from community members, regarding the proposed enhancements and budget cuts will be from 6:30-8 p.m. at the following locations:
Feb. 18: Astronaut High School Auditorium
Feb. 19: Bayside High School Auditorium
Feb. 21: Hoover Middle School Media Center
Feb. 25: Viera High School Auditorium