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Construction of middle school in Palm Beach County, Fla., is back on track

The Florida Department of Education had rejected the construction plan, but the state legislature passed a law that allows the district to move forward.

The Palm Beach County (Fla.) district will be able to move forward with plans to build a middle school west of Boynton Beach after the state legislature passed a law that enables districts to circumvent the state education department.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the new school will be built on 17 acres next to Sunset Palms Elementary.

Palm Beach County was moving forward with construction in December when the Florida Department of Education rejected the plan. The department said Palm Beach County had too many empty seats at other schools whose boundaries could be adjusted to distribute students more evenly.

The district argued that the open seats were too far from where the new school was needed, near Florida’s Turnpike and Boynton Beach Boulevard, where a housing boom is attracting young families. 

Palm Beach County has been able to put the project back on track when the state legislature approved a law that allows districts to build schools without state permission if they use money from sales taxes instead of property taxes.

The district has allotted about $43 million for the school’s construction, to be paid for with money from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2016.

Before they were assigned to Woodlands this year, students who live in the area near Sunset Palms, which is filled to capacity, would have attended Odyssey Middle School, which closed a year ago and became SouthTech Academy, a charter school.

The district closed Odyssey because it was only about half full. Even though almost 2,000 students lived in Odyssey’s boundaries, fewer than 800 attended the school, which struggled to gain community support because of low test scores, lack of magnet programs and discipline problems.

Families in nearby neighborhoods mostly chose to attend charter schools and magnet schools.

The new school is not scheduled to open until 2023.

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