Tamarac city officials have shot down a proposal to open a charter high school within the city.
At a recent City Commission meeting, officials went against staff's recommendation and voted unanimously against granting a special exception to open an alternative high school named International High School. The denial is in the backdrop of complaints by city residents that too many charter schools are opening in the city.
The city's planning board initially referred the matter to the City Commission without any recommendation. After city officials voted to send the item back to the planning board, the board voted 3-2 in favor of approving the request by the property owner, American Charter Development, and the school operator, Newport Education Partners.
Voting against the application, Mayor Harry Dressler referred to "existing deficiencies" in the city's code in addressing the issue of special exception for charter schools. He said his vote was based on the best interests of the community and the city.
The staff's recommendation in support of the applicant is based on "outdated" special-exception processes, Commissioner Debra Placko said. "My community has raised a lot of concerns, which have been substantiated this evening a little bit. I think I will be doing a disservice to the community if I support this. I have serious concerns."
"We have been asked by the city to address the three-code condition," said Keith Poliakoff, who spoke on behalf of the applicant. "Staff and the planning board have found us in full compliance of the code conditions. We weren't asked to try to address conditions that have not been approved yet by the commission. We are only required to meet the standards of the code as it is."
The applicant had spent $2 million to acquire the site and has plans to spend another million, Poliakoff said. "This is not a fly-by-night charter school developer or organization who goes into a strip center and leaves a month after opening. They are spending close to $3 million in the city."
Charter schools seem to be sprouting up all over the place, said Commissioner Pamela Bushnell. "I cannot understand how you are going to fill this school when already there is so many," she said. In the petition submitted by the applicant in support of the school that was purportedly signed by residents and businesses in the city, most of the signatures are from people in Sunrise, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill and Coral Springs, she added.
The plan was to convert a 14,000-square-foot commercial building, which was at one point of time being used as a call center for an insurance company, into a school with a maximum enrollment of 400. The building is located at 8301 West McNab Road.
Rules for charter schools
Staff is currently rewriting the code to address the issue of too many charter schools opening in the city, said Maxine Calloway, director of community development. The proposed ordinance is likely to be submitted to the City Commission for approval in August.
"One thing we will be proposing is site-area requirements, an example of which would be a minimum lot size for schools to be located on a parcel," she said. "Our code only has three standards with respect to special exceptions; most municipalities have six. We will also be proposing additional standards and reducing zoning districts where schools can be located."