‘Let’s rip the Band-Aid’: Broward Public Schools officials push to close more schools

Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | February 28, 2024

Broward Public Schools Superintendent Peter Licata warned the Broward School Board that he will likely recommend to them that they close more than five schools — maybe 20 or more.

The board tasked Licata last year to close “at least five” schools by the 2025-26 school year, because of a critical decline in enrollment that translated to a loss of millions of dollars in the past two decades or so. The superintendent said this week that during an upcoming March 20 workshop on the topic, he will likely include more than five.

The board stumbled on the schools closing issue during a facilities agenda item on a budget workshop on Tuesday. Board member Daniel Foganholi asked Licata to speak on whether five schools would be enough to address the budgetary constraints.

“From all of our budget conversations earlier, it’s very clear we’re in a tight spot,” Foganholi said. “We’ve talked about four or five schools at a minimum. But I think everybody on this board, everybody on staff, people in the community are very clear that we’re about 40 schools over-sized, so can you speak to that?”

“The question really is: ‘Are we slowly ripping the Band-Aid off, or are we ready to just go all in and do what’s best for our community, best for our budgets, best for our staff — everybody?,’” Foganholi added. “We continue to walk on eggshells here, and I think we’re really hurting our kids by by not having the real conversation.”

Licata said that he’s spoken to “several” superintendents across the country including some in San Antonio and Houston who successfully downsized their school district, and he’s found they’ve all closed more schools upfront. He said that a specific “well-known” superintendent that he didn’t name told Licata that “the hardest decision was to make that grand, one-shot,” but that in the long-term it proved to be the best approach.

“It’s hard at first. You’re taking a beating, but it was the right thing for them, and I believe in my heart of hearts it’s the right thing for us,” Licata said.

“We have a lot of schools that probably need to be closed or repurposed and so forth and so on,” he added. “And I don’t want to die a thousand deaths. I believe in my heart as a leader that if we were to piece meal this, we would be our own worst enemy, and we would not be transparent. We can’t just nickle and dime. We got to either do something or don’t.”

Foganholi encouraged him to move forward that way: “I, for one, as one board member, want to see the big change. I don’t want to prolong hurting our kids and hurting our community.”

“Let’s fix our district,” he added. “I really challenge you superintendent: Come to us. If it’s going to be more, let’s rip the Band-Aid … Let’s do what’s right.”

Board member Brenda Fam agreed with Foganholi. She told Licata they should “take the bull by the horns” because community members will suffer for a shorter period of time that way.

“They don’t want to have to worry each year, ‘Is my school going to be on the list this year?’” she said.


But not all board members agreed with Foganholi and Fam.

Board member Nora Rupert outright criticized the idea: “I am not prepared to close 60 schools or 40 schools. I can tell you that. Not in a hot minute. Schools are the heartbeat of every community.”

But she pushed for honesty, saying that if district officials do believe it’ll be more than five then they should be clear about it “before it gets ugly real fast.” “I don’t want anybody to say to me, ‘You lied to me Ms. Rupert,’” she said.

“I don’t want that.

Similarly, board member Allen Zeman seemed hesitant and said he wants to see more data before supporting mass closures.

“I think there’s a difference between doing what’s right and having the information to figure out what right looks like,” he said.

The board’s chair, Lori Alhadeff, said she wants the school district to rely on specific criteria to judge whether to close or not a school on an individual basis, and define that way how many schools will close in total.

“We need to follow a criteria that we vote on as a board, and we agree to use as we move forward in this process,” she said.

Licata said he intends to do that: propose six or seven boxes like low enrollment, outdated facilities, shrinking birth rate in the area, competition nearby and problems with administrative leadership.

Then start looking at each school. And if one checks all boxes, he said: “… why would we keep it open?”

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