Tuesday night, The Lee County School Board voted 7-0 to rebuild the Elementary School on Fort Myers Beach. The goal is to remediate the Historical Building first, which would be home to 52 students by the Fall of 2023. The town and the district will then work together to increase enrollment to get the cost-per-student in line with the cost of the Sanibel and Pine Island schools.
The School Board vote would have never taken place and resulted in the unanimous vote if not for the parents and community leaders who worked with the district for months to come up with a plan that the district believed would be successful in increasing enrollment. Lee County Board Member Chris Patricca had 3 words for the members of the Fort Myers Beach community: “You Are Amazing.”
By law, the school district must restore the historical building on the beach school campus which parents are hoping will be open by the Fall of 2023. The district has not done anything to remediate the elementary school on Fort Myers Beach since Hurricane Ian inflicted severe damage to the buildings September 28th, 2022.
The School Board and the Superintendent’s staff have been researching the cost of a rebuild and weighing that decision against the cost-per-student to operate the school. Enrollment has been declining for years at the school and the damaged buildings have given the school board a reason to consider closing the facility.
A committee of parents and community leaders on Fort Myers Beach organized and have been engaged with the district to keep the school open. They put a plan together to increase enrollment and have been working behind the scenes to convince school board members and the Superintendent that their plan will generate more students over the next 4 years and bring down the cost to the district.
The School Superintendent will now move forward with providing the Board a total project cost for the restoration of the historical building and phase one of the elementary school campus. Site improvements for the phased elementary campus are limited to a budget of $5.8 million dollars. In February and March, the school board was presented with options regarding the long term recovery considerations for the beach school that includes restoration of the historic building, and phased building of additional facilities as student enrollment merits.
An interlocal agreement between the Town of Fort Myers Beach and the School Board, was negotiated between the district and an ad-hoc committee of parents and community members on Fort Myers beach. The final step is for the Town Council to vote on it Monday.
The inter-local agreement includes a plan to increase enrollment at the school, which includes 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.
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 the other barrier island schools (Pine Island Elementary and Sanibel), the district will continue to operate the school. The annual cost calculation will be based on the annual cost per student report submitted to the Department of Education at the end of each fiscal year.
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.
If remediated by the Fall of 2023, the Historic Building can hold about 52 students, which according to the ILA is the current enrollment number. 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 ILA goes on to say that if the Beach School is unable to financially sustain itself at the same level as the Barrier Island Schools, 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.