Vero Beach Elementary could take 125 displaced Thompson students

VERO BEACH – School district leaders are considering closing Thompson Magnet Elementary School and sending its more than 260 students to area schools in an effort to save money. Vero Beach Elementary could get nearly half the students, if Superintendent Dr. Harry La Cava’s plan were approved.

He explained Tuesday that Vero Beach Elementary has the capacity available now to absorb the displaced Thompson Magnet students and would have more capacity once Vero Beach Elementary reopens with a larger campus in 2013. The option was broached during a budget workshop Tuesday, during which district staff brought up the possibility of “repurposing” Thompson Magnet by converting it into a facility for voluntary pre-kindergarten and the adult education program.

La Cava explained that the move would save the district more than $370,000 annually. He said that there is a perception that if the school closed completely it would result in a windfall of money for the district.

“It doesn’t happen that way,” La Cava said, adding that repurposing the school by expanding voluntary pre-K and providing adult education at Thompson would be a better use of the facility than just closing it.

The school district has struggled for the last few years trying to keep Thompson Magnet open, but with a lack of students and an increasingly tighter budget, La Cava said there is no other option.

“I didn’t see another route to go,” La Cava said, adding that the school could be saved if another 300 students chose to attend there – then the school would receive more funds from the government and could stay open.

La Cava met with Thompson Magnet’s principal and staff earlier this week to inform them of his proposal.

“It was difficult to tell them,” he said. School leaders were expected to inform parents at the Parent Teacher Association meeting Tuesday night.

He said Tuesday that even though he is proposing an option, he believes that the School Board would approve it. They are expected to discuss the matter at a March 23 workshop and could vote on it in April, according to La Cava.

The next board meeting is March 9, which would be the first opportunity for members of the public to address the entire board at one time.

Fifty percent of the students at Thompson Magnet were zoned for that school, according to La Cava, which means the school district would have to rezone the area’s schools, including Citrus, Glendale and Vero Beach elementaries.

Other students – those who chose to attend Thompson – would be sent back to their zoned school unless they were to choose another magnet school.

La Cava said the district is working out how best to accommodate the students who chose to attend Thompson Magnet at the remaining magnet schools. He said that would take time to figure out what was each student’s first or second choice in magnets.

With rezoning of school attendance boundaries and relocation of Thompson Magnet’s 261 students, the following schools could expect to see student populations increase:

– Vero Beach – 125

– Highlands – 94

– Glendale – 44

– Dodgertown – 15

– Beachland – 3

– Treasure Coast and Sebastian – 1 each

Each of the schools is expected to handle the increase in students, La Cava said. As for Beachland Elementary, which did not meet class size requirements for the lower grades, La Cava said the district expects to address the problem in time for the next school year.

He said the class size ruling at the school came during the school year, which means the district could not hire a teacher to shift students and meet the requirements.

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