Northwest corner of University Drive and Hillsboro Blvd where proposed charter school will be built.

By: Sharon Aron Baron

A charter school company’s media campaign announcing their plans to open a new school has been sent out to residents of Parkland  – one of the few Broward County cities without a single charter school.

Somerset Academy’s marketing company Ambit Advertising has mailed out brochures, created a new Facebook page and is organizing town hall meetings next week for residents to ask questions and find out more about the school.  A brochure, which was mailed out to all Parkland residents reads, “Extra Extra! Parkland schools exceed capacity, 5,000 new homes mean students need to leave Parkland schools.” 

According to the city, the numbers of the brochure are stretched, as there are only 2,356 new homes being built in the neighborhoods of MiraLago, Parkland Bay, Cascata and Watercrest for residents under 55.

Piya Thompson, a resident of Parkland Golf & Country Club believes traffic will just get worse in the area once a school is built.

“They need to fix and widen Loxahatchee Road before adding more traffic to the area,” said Thompson. “It will be a nightmare there.”

Because the City of Parkland will not be holding the charter like Coral Springs or Pembroke Pines Charter School, they cannot pick and choose who applies to the school by the city they live in, which means students from any Broward County city can attend.

Academica, the management company behind Somerset Academy runs more than 100 schools in Florida and makes $158 million a year in total revenue from its South Florida schools alone, including $9 million annually in management fees according to the latest data from 2011. According to the Miami Herald, Florida has 4,200 K-12 public schools, of which 650 are charter schools that receive taxpayer funding but are managed by private entities not under the purview of the school district. Some of those private operators are for-profit companies.

There are about 276,000 children in charter schools, compared to about 2.5 million children in traditional public schools and thanks to a controversial provision in a sweeping education bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, 650 charter schools could see as much as an extra $96.3 million coming their way in 2017-18.

Rendering of Somerset Academy in Parkland, Florida

Somerset Academy has 10 campuses and 22 schools in cities like Pompano Beach, North Lauderdale, Davie, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines. The proposed K-8 in Parkland will be located at the northwest quadrant at the intersection of University Drive and Hillsboro Blvd in the area known as the wedge. This parcel, at 110,000 square feet, was already zoned as commercial, and Somerset Academy performed independent traffic studies which were submitted along with their application to the city.

If the school is approved by the city and Broward County Public Schools, they anticipate it will open in the fall of 2018.  In their first year, they will accept children in grades kindergarten through 3rd; in the second year kindergarten through 6th; and in the third year kindergarten through 8th. The school will have a total of 1,280 students.

First, the developer for the school will meet with the Parkland Planning and Zoning Board on November 9, at 6 p.m. for a special exemption and an approval of a site plan. The use of commercial zoned property for a school is not an improper usage, but the city still requires a special exemption.  Once the board makes their recommendation to move forward, it will go to the city commission for a vote.

Some of the features that Somerset Academy wrote they will offer students are: a rigorous curriculum focused on STEAM initiatives of science, technology, engineering, arts and math; gifted/high achieving programs, character and leadership development; and state-of-the-art technology; before and after school care; after school enrichment; and clubs and athletic programs.

On Monday, the school will be presenting two meetings led by developer Frank Biden, brother of former Vice President Joe Biden. 

“We want to bring the Parkland community a school of excellence tailored to the specific needs of the community,” said Biden. “We’re looking forward to welcoming the community at our two presentations on Monday to share our ideas for Somerset Parkland Academy, to listen to ideas and answer questions from Parkland parents.”

Two presentations on Monday November 6, 2017

9 a.m. Heron Bay Marriott (Marriott Fort Lauderdale Coral Springs) 11775 Heron Bay Boulevard, Corals Springs, FL 33076  Doors open at 8:30 a.m. 

6 p.m. City of Parkland Library 6620 N University Dr., Parkland, FL 33076 Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Sharon Aron Baron is the Editor of Talk Media and writer for Parkland Talk. She has been covering Parkland news since 2012. Parkland Talk was created to provide News, Views and Entertainment for the residents of Parkland.