Master Facility Plan Sparks Concern for DCPS Parents

Master Facility Plan Sparks Concern for DCPS Parents
DCPS Vice-Chairman Charlotte Joyce speaking at an April 16 John Stockton Elementary School Advisory Council Meeting.

Communities across Jacksonville are still reeling from a Duval County Public School (DCPS) Master Facility Plan (MFP) proposal that would ultimately see extensive school closures throughout the county.

“I think shock is the first thing that anyone who read that list felt,” said Tacoma Perry from the Fishweir Elementary PTA.

The list Perry referred to is found within “Blueprints for Tomorrow: Strategic Adjustments for a Stronger Future,” a presentation first given to the DCPS Board in March, which identified a $1.4 billion deficit between adjusted revenue and costs in a post-pandemic climate where material and labor shortages, material cost increases and longer lead times greatly impacted the bottom line.

Cover image from the Blueprints for Tomorrow PDF
Image: Cover of the DCPS “Blueprints for Tomorrow” PDF. Click to view the PDF.

This is a series of adjustments from the previously released Master Plan Facility Recommendations (“A Bold Plan for DCPS”) that was created to “address the District’s aging buildings (among the oldest in the state of Florida), create safe and secure spaces for students and staff, remove most of the district’s portable classrooms, decrease excess seat capacity, and increase utilization capacity. Additionally, this plan removes over one billion dollars in deferred facility maintenance over the next 15 years.”

According to the presentation for the new MFP proposal, the “revised plan assumptions” include: “continue overall goal to right-size the district;” “enhance school safety at elementary and middle schools;” and “maximize operational costs by reducing the small school premium,” among others.

New Feeder Patterns

The presentation featured 12 proposed feeder patterns which detailed potential plans for each school within that boundary, including replacement, renovations/additions, deferred maintenance and closures (potential swing or demolition).

In our Resident News communities, the proposed high school feeder patterns are the Riverside High School and Englewood High School patterns.

While the feeder pattern for the Riverside Avondale area doesn’t change — elementary schools would still feed into Lakeshore Middle School and then on to Riverside High School — the proposal for this area’s feeder pattern calls for the closure of six elementary schools, making it the third-hardest hit feeder pattern in the MFP, behind Terry Parker and Raines high schools, both with eight proposed closures.

The proposed closures in the Riverside High School feeder pattern are Bayview Elementary, Fishweir Elementary, Hyde Grove Elementary, John Stockton Elementary, Ortega Elementary and West Riverside Elementary.

Students from John Stockton and Ortega would consolidate into Venetia Elementary. Fishweir students would be absorbed into Ruth N. Upson; West Riverside into Central Riverside.

The original Bold Plan actions (which still proposed closing Ortega, but suggested a renovation and/or addition at Fishweir and John Stockton, and deferred maintenance at West Riverside) had an escalated cost of $217.1 million. This modified proposal, with the additional closures, would save an estimated $64.3 million.

Families in the San Marco area are not impacted as strongly in this new proposal, save for an adjustment to the split in feeder patterns rerouting students from both San Jose and Hendricks Avenue elementary schools to Englewood High School via Alfred I. Dupont Middle School. The existing feeder patterns split them into Atlantic Coast or Terry Parker high schools. The proposed Englewood High School feeder pattern does still suggest closing two elementary schools — Kings Trail and Windy Hills, to the south and east of San Marco, respectively. These, and all other proposed actions for the Englewood High School feeder pattern would save nearly $8 million from the escalated Bold Plan cost of $434.8 million.

Alternate feeder patterns were presented for Englewood, Terry Parker, Sandalwood, Fletcher and First Coast high schools.

Community Reaction

Since the MFP proposal was released, there has been immense pushback from communities across the district, particularly from those whose schools are slated for potential closure. “Save our school” Facebook pages have popped up on social media, relaying information to, and gathering questions from, concerned parents.

An April 16 DCPS board meeting was filled with parents ready to speak in support of their schools, including West Riverside Elementary parent and Riverside area resident Andrew Murdoch, who said neighborhood schools, like West Riverside, are places where division is “leveled,” opportunities provided, diversity celebrated and learning goes beyond textbooks and grades.

“It’s not just about getting the grades,” he said. “It’s about growing individuals who have the ability to realize that things are greater than themselves, to invest in their community, to explore ideas with each other from different cultures, different backgrounds. That’s how we get a great educated person – the love of learning. We have that in our local schools.”

“People are thoroughly, thoroughly scared about what you are looking to do,” he added. “There is fear amongst households.”

At a John Stockton Elementary School Advisory Council meeting that same morning, before the DCPS board meeting, DCPS Vice-Chairman Charlotte Joyce emphasized that this MFP proposal is “a very high-level, analytical synopsis” and, in its current form, she believes, “1000% will not be what we actually are voting on. It will change, pieces will move around.”

Joyce also touched on some of the existing problems of the area’s grade A schools — Fishweir, Ortega, Venetia, John Stockton and West Riverside among them — feeding into Lakeshore, which has “a lot of issues” around it.

The MFP proposal would call for a rebuild of Venetia Elementary.

“The thought process was rebuilding that as a K-8 and then consolidating Ortega, Venetia and John Stockton, so now you have a brand-new K-8 with just these three attendance zones and your families may choose to stay in the K-8 arena. That was what they said and that was the logic behind it,” said Joyce.

She added that there are many other pieces of the puzzle to consider.

During that same meeting, John Stockton Elementary School Principal Stephanie Brannan said, “I will be very honest with you, I’m not nervous right now.”

Fishweir Elementary School held an event the following week, during which parents and community members were brought up to speed on the situation as it stands and were able to ask questions. It was standing-room only while Valerie Boote, an admin for the SOS Save Fishweir Facebook group, provided answers when she could and wrote down questions still needing them.

DCPS Superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar was also in attendance and shared what details she could with the auditorium. Fishweir student Oscar B. asked the one question everyone was wondering: “What are the chances of Fishweir closing?”

DCPS Superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar speaking to Fishweir Elementary School student Oscar B., who asked about the likelihood of Fishweir closing.
DCPS Superintendent Dr. Dana Kriznar speaking to Fishweir Elementary School student Oscar B., who asked about the likelihood of Fishweir closing.

Kriznar responded, “I would say the chances of Fishweir closing depend on voices like you because when I see students come to board meetings…you know, board members are really busy, but when a student comes up to the podium, every single board member looks up and listens. So, I think that students have really powerful voices.”

Next Steps

Following the Fishweir Parent Meeting, The Resident News spoke with Kriznar, who explained that while nothing will be voted on until later this fall, there will be a lot of activity between now and then, including the formation of another revised proposal from the DCPS board itself. This revised proposal, she said, will consider the intangible factors of each school.

“When the revised plan comes out, it’s going to take into consideration all the comments that we received, all of the questions, all the intangible things,” she said.

Kriznar said the board will begin working on its revised proposal later this summer, after it’s had an opportunity to gather all the questions and recommendations from the community meetings it intends to host throughout May and June.

These community meetings were discussed during a board workshop on April 16. DCPS plans to host a series of seven public meetings — one for each district, with dates to be determined — to ensure parents have every opportunity to learn about the proposed plan, ask questions, share feedback and voice concerns. These meetings will not be district-specific and will discuss the proposed plan as a whole, so parents can attend any meeting. Also included in its plan for community engagement is a DCPS website sharing proposed feeder patterns that will allow comments and questions.

In a telephone interview, DCPS Board Chairman Darryl Willie said first and foremost, he wants to ensure the community “understands the why behind everything we’re doing.”

“I think when you’re making any decision, that’s going to be critically important,” he said.

For some time, DCPS has been considering selling its administrative headquarters on Prudential Drive and relocating. The Resident News asked Willie if that sale could help the current situation.

“I think it could, a bit, but it would be a small amount because if we sold this building at a certain amount, we would then have to get into another building,” he said. “So, then we would be kind of almost at a break-even point or maybe a small sort of profit from selling the building. So, it would not help to offset the amount of deficit that we have in some of the capital projects that we’re anticipating with the Master Facilities Plan.”

Like Kriznar, Willie also emphasized that further analyses will be done to take into consideration school ratings, existing school programs and success rates while also factoring in the impact consolidations would have on communities.

“What does it mean to close or consolidate one, what does that do to traffic patterns, what does that do to community empowerment and thriving communities? There’s a lot of factors that will come into play as we move into making further decisions,” he said.

The Resident News will continue to report on this situation as it develops. Next month, we will explore the impact that charter schools have hand on the landscape and climate of the DCPS system.

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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