By: Sharon Aron Baron
The city of Parkland, known for its desirable A-rated public schools may soon get its first charter school. That is, if the city commission approves it.
After a recommendation was made by the planning and zoning board on August 9, the applicant for Somerset Parkland Academy will appear before the Parkland city commission September 5 for a vote on the K-8 school located on the northwest corner of University Drive and Hillsboro Blvd on 10.59 acres. The school will have 1,280 students once it achieves 100 percent capacity.
In 2017, city staff could not make a recommendation for the school to the planning and zoning board since there were too many unanswered questions, namely dealing with traffic. The planning and zoning recommended denying the application and the applicant decided not to seek approval from the commission until they reworked all the issues. This included redesigning the circulation of the drop-off and pick-up lanes where more cars could be stacked.
During their August presentation, the school, in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, hired a firm qualified in school safety. They added features including a six-foot-high ornamental fence surrounding the school and an eight-foot-high non-scalable interior fence. The school will also have security gates: one on Hillsboro and another in an emergency vehicle access area. As part of their sealed environment, a gate on Hillsboro will stay open, while another on University will remain closed. There will be a security observation tower with a direct view of those entering and exiting, license plate readers, a call box, and safety barriers around the entrance to protect carpool students from lanes of traffic, and a full-time certified armed officer will be on campus at all times.. A single-entry lobby will have a bullet resistant door, bullet resistant glass, an ID reader and an electronic lock access remote.
Traffic Engineer Bryan Kelley, estimated there will be 3,174 daily car trips 180 days a year and compared it to a retail complex on the site, which he estimated would have 7,000 daily car trips. To help mitigate the traffic impact, the school redesigned the location to hold an estimated 228 cars for on site queuing and will have three staggered start and end times for 425-450 students to help ease traffic congestion.
Pine Tree Estates resident Elisha Johnson is concerned about the traffic increase from the charter school and created a petition called “Parkland Against Traffic Initiative” which has 933 signatures from residents who are against the proposed charter school.
Although she doesn’t live near the proposed site, she said traffic will increase all over Parkland because of Broward County Public Schools choice policy.
Johnson has two children: one at Riverglades Elementary and another at Westglades Middle. At Westglades, her son is taking a high level math course and is in the pre-engineering program. She likes the schools they are in and sees no reason to take them out.
“Absolutely not,” Johnson said, adding that her son wants to go to his neighborhood school and has no reason to go anywhere else.
Charter Schools in Florida are considered public schools and use Federal, state, local, discretionary lottery and discretionary millage levy funds allocated according to the same funding formula as funds allocated to other public schools. However, unlike public schools, Somerset’s parent company, Academica, is a for-profit company. Somerset Academy has 10 campuses and 22 schools in cities like Pompano Beach, North Lauderdale, Davie, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines.
City spokesperson Todd DeAngelis said the city commission cannot vote for or against it based on their personal opinions about charter schools. He said the special exception along with traffic would be the biggest part of their decision.
Because the city commission meeting is quasi-judicial – meaning the procedures will resemble that of a court of law, members of the commission cannot discuss the agenda prior to the meeting.
If approved, Somerset Parkland Academy is anticipating opening in the fall of 2019.
The special Parkland city commission meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 at 5:00 p.m.