Broward Schools Superintendent Peter Licata announced on Tuesday that the process of “re-purposing” some schools due to low student enrollment — or closing them if needed — will start as early as next week with a day-long tour of under-enrolled campuses across the county.
At a press conference held in the school district’s headquarters in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, the superintendent said that he and members of his executive cabinet will ride a school bus in the next week or two to visit campuses with declining enrollment. He said the planned eight-hour tour is a direct response to the dramatic exit of about 25,000 students from traditional public schools during the past decade, a drop of more than 10%.
“We have some tough decisions to make,” Licata said. “We know that we can’t budget for the size we used to be.”
Just 10 years ago, in the 2014-15 school year, the Broward school district had a total of 225,349 students in its district-run public schools, according to the benchmark day enrollment count, which usually takes place the first day of school after Labor Day.
Fast forward to the 2023-24 school year, the school district — facing competition from charter and private schools — now has about 201,273 students in those schools.
During that 10-year period, enrollment at charter schools in Broward rose from 40,052 to 49,833.
Declining enrollment has affected some district schools more than others. Northeast High School in Oakland Park, for instance, only had 1,518 students registered on Sept. 11 — 1,256 students under capacity.
Licata, who pointed to the county’s shrinking birth rate and the lack of families moving to Broward as two reasons for declining enrollment, believes the problem will continue. He said Tuesday that he expects about 10,000 more students will leave district-run schools in the next three to four years, with many of the departures coming as students transition from elementary to middle school.
School district officials are brainstorming solutions to combat the issue, Licata said, while avoiding at all cost the outright closures of schools.
Some alternative options include combining two or three schools located nearby if all of them are under-enrolled. District officials have also considered expanding the student population of a school by adding grade levels, changing school boundaries, replicating some popular magnet school programs and transforming campuses into housing complexes for school district employees.
“Closing schools is the last bullet,” Licata said.
Licata said that the district will hold off on “doing anything to any school at least for 16 months.”
During the bus ride later this month, school district officials will start that years-long process by evaluating as many of the 239 district-run public schools in Broward as possible. They’ll mostly look at how welcoming the campuses feel.
“We have to meet the communities first,” he said. “Then we start formulating some ideas.”
Lori Alhadeff, the chair of the Broward School Board, praised the superintendent’s efforts during the presser.
“I’m so appreciative of Dr. Licata,” she said. “He is the first superintendent in five years that actually is hitting this problem head-on.”
Earlier on Tuesday, during its annual organizational meeting, the nine-member School Board voted 8-1 to select Alhadeff (District 4) for a second consecutive term as chair, with only Jeff Holness (District 5) voting against.
Debbie Hixon (Countywide At-Large Seat 9) stayed on as vice chair by a 6-3 vote. Daniel Foganholi (District 1), Brenda Fam (District 6) and Torey Alston (District 2) dissented.