On Monday the Fort Myers Beach Town Council approved an inter-local agreement with the Lee County School Board. It was the final approval needed to get the rebuild of the Beach School started.
Last week, the Lee County School Board voted 7-0 to rebuild the Elementary School on Fort Myers Beach. Step one is to remediate the Historical Building, which would accommodate the 52 students now enrolled in the school by the Fall of 2023. The town and the district will then work together to increase enrollment, and reduce expenses at the school, to get the cost-per-student in line with Sanibel and Pine Island schools, the two other barrier island schools in Lee County.
Fort Myers Beach Elementary School Principal Dr. Traci Kohler has already been hard at work looking at ways to operate the school more efficiently. Her team has identified ways to save money at the school and she plans to make that public later in the year. The district said before the storm it cost $21,243 per student to operate the beach school, up from $13,487 in 2019. By comparison, in 2022, it cost the district $12,226 per student to operate Sanibel and $11,402 to operate Pine Island.
Kohler also announced that local resident Joseph Bishop, who recently passed away, left the Beach School $50,000 from his estate.
Hurricane Ian gave the Lee County School Board a convenient excuse to consider closing the school. The buildings were unusable after the storm and, for years, the district provided no financial oversight of the school, allowing the cost-per-child to rise to more than $21,000. It isn’t the responsibility of the parents or a community to keep school district expenses in line yet the district was willing to consider closing the school in a community devastated by a near-category 5 hurricane.
Beach School parents, Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt and other community leaders on Fort Myers Beach formed an ad-hoc committee to come up with ideas to present to the district with a goal of getting those expenses down and getting the school back open. They did battle with a multi-billion dollar well-equipped political machine, despite dealing with personal hardships of losing their homes. Not to mention having to drive their children off island to attend school or dealing with the district’s never-ending bussing fiasco.
Island parents caught a nice break in their efforts to rebuild the school when it was discovered that, by law, the district had to restore the Historical building on the beach school campus. If not for that Historical designation the Beach School might not have ever opened again. The district has not done anything to remediate the school since Hurricane Ian inflicted severe damage to the buildings September 28th, 2022.
That Historical designation gave the ad-hoc committee the time it needed to develop a plan to get the kids back in their school by the Fall of 2023. Once the district repairs the Historical building, 52 students can attend school there. Then the work begins.
The plan to increase enrollment at the school includes recruiting children of employees of island businesses, recruiting students who live off the island up to Summerlin Road and San Carlos Boulevard and creating a magnet school with specialty curriculum. Some sort of water school has been discussed multiple times by both sides.
If enrollment numbers increase the district says it’s committed to adding back the destroyed buildings on the Beach School campus. The ILA states that by 2024-2025 the district will build additional facilities on the campus to accommodate a permanent kitchen/cafe. Also, by 2024-2025 the district will improve the Historic Building with additional classroom space to accommodate up to 80 students. After that, the school board will design and construct additional facilities to accommodate no more than 150 students.
The agreement states that if student enrollment at the Beach School meets the threshold that Fort Myers Beach Elementary can sustain itself at the same level as Pine Island and Sanibel the district will continue to operate the school.
What if the cost-per-student does not align with Sanibel and Pine Island? The agreement states that after fiscal year 2026-2027, if there are not enough students enrolled for FMBE to financially sustain itself, the school board may close the facility. The ILA also states that Bay Oaks must be available for aftercare programs by the fall of 2023.
The ILA goes on to say that if the Beach School is unable to financially sustain itself, or if the Town is unable to provide a financial contribution to cover the difference, the Town may assume the responsibility for the full operation of the Beach School by turning it into a Charter School.
Ad-hoc committee member Patrick Vanasse summed it all up speaking in front of the Town Council Monday. He said, “We can’t be complacent. We have 4 years.”
I work on the beach. I have a daughter that is 2 years old. although she isn’t quite of age yet, we are looking forward to having her attend. we do live in Iona but is enrollment offered to people that work on the beach? I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere. looking for conclusive answer. thanks
Thanks for the update never knew that the school was considered historical. Be interesting what they finally do to have the children resume school on the beach.