Charter school appeases crowded community
Pembroke Pines, Fla., has doubled its population during the past 10 years, causing severe overcrowding in area schools. To combat the problem, city officials have taken advantage of recent state legislation allowing municipalities to operate charter schools. In August, the Pembroke Pines Charter School opened its doors to 750 students.
Charter schools receive public funding and are open to all students in the county. Unlike typical public schools, charters are operated by a group other than a school district. The Pembroke Pines school was designed and is operated by Haskell Education Services, a division of The Haskell Co., based in Miami. An advisory board composed of the school’s principal, Pembroke Pines Mayor Alex Fekete, City Manager Charlie Dodge and appointed residents co-manages the school with the company.
“The charter school was a direct response to the overcrowding in Broward County,” says Fekete. “The charter school legislation provided a wonderful opportunity for us to have some innovative education.”
Like a private school, the Pembroke Pines charter offers more personal attention to students through a student-teacher ratio of 25 to 1. Additionally, it demands the participation of parents, who are required to perform 30 hours of service to the school each year. Some parents may take on a large commitment, such as coaching a sports team, but even working parents can contribute to the school by making phone calls for events or baking cookies for a bake sale.
Pembroke Pines Charter School is a $10 million, 63,000-square-foot, two-campus project that includes a 500-student elementary school and a 250-student facility for grades pre-K through second. The school, which was built in about five months, has been well-received in the community because of its “small schools and small classes philosophy,” Dodge says.
“The initial response was overwhelming,” Fekete says. Initially, 1,200 students applied for admission to the charter school. The board used a lottery system to select 750 students — the maximum for the facility.
The estimated cost per child at the charter school is $8,600, while the typical cost at Broward County public schools is close to $13,000 per child, according to Dodge. Part of the cost savings has been realized through private contracts for bus service and food service. For example, food is prepared at a private location, then transported to the school, where meals are heated prior to lunchtime. The school avoided the up-front costs of purchasing and installing cooking equipment, and hiring and paying cooks through its private service. “The food program is basically a no-cost service,” Dodge says.
The K-2 campus soon will be expanded to a K-5 facility with 500 students, and a 675-student middle school is planned to open in August 1999 to further serve the rapidly growing community. The future may include a 1,200-student charter high school, a satellite campus of Broward Community College and a county library branch.