Public schools in Fort Lauderdale got low marks in the city’s latest annual survey, a criticism the city is getting used to hearing.
Satisfaction with the city as a “place to educate children” earned the worst overall ratings in the survey, just below “a place to raise children.” The ratings were slightly higher than last year, but still too low for comfort, city leaders said.
The annual survey zeroes in on beefs and praises. Residents are happy with the police department, for example. But traffic, homelessness and public education are top topics for complaint.
The city scored below the U.S. average for satisfaction as a place to raise kids, for sewer services, street maintenance, traffic flow, safety and cleanliness and quality of public schools, according to ETC Institute.
“To be a great city, you’ve got to have a great public education system. It’s fundamental,” the city’s education advisory board chairman, Allen Zeman, said at a recent confab on the issue between the city, the board and Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Parents were most concerned about crime and bullying in the public schools. Their top priorities for schools were to protect children from bullying and provide them high quality teachers.
Relatively few gave the schools an above average or excellent rating: Three-fourths of those surveyed said middle and high schools in the city limits are average or worse. Elementaries were rated mediocre or worse by 61 percent.
About 19,060 kids attend public schools in the city, according to data from the Broward school district. Of those students, a shocking 78 percent are at the poverty level or below, the city’s education advisory board said.
A third of the estimated 28,405 school-age children who live in the city don’t go to public schools at all. They’re in private or home-based schools, according to schools and Census figures.
For those not sending their children to public school, three-fourths in the survey said the reason was “quality of academic curriculum.”
The city’s perceived family unfriendliness has been a source of complaint in past surveys, as well.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he questions the validity of the survey, and wonders if it truly reflects public sentiment.
ETC Institute surveyed 739 people throughout the city, by mail, phone and internet. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent. A follow-up survey looked just at the three top issues of discontent: public schools, traffic and homelessness. It had a slightly larger sample size and similar margin of error.
Commissioner Heather Moraitis, who has two daughters, said the complaint rings true to her, after moving with her family from Gainesville. High housing costs make it difficult to afford a large home for a family, she said, and access to parks or amenities is difficult.
A former teacher at Westminster Academy private Christian school, she’s pushing for a new aviation-focused school near Fort Lauderdale-Executive Airport, to offer skills and certification for those who might work in the aviation industry. The city is moving in that direction, and hired a chief education officer to help. She also suggested more schools that stretch from elementary through middle school.
“I would love to see how we can improve,” she said of public education. “It’s the key to a thriving community. It has to happen.”
Commissioner Ben Sorensen, who has two young daughters, said the city’s parks are a place to connect with people of all backgrounds. The city’s recently approved parks bond issue will help with that, he said.
“Perceptions are already improving,” he said. “I think we’re headed in a good direction but we’ve got to be even more involved with our city schools and our school board.”
In Fort Lauderdale, there are five A-rated public schools, 4 B-rated schools, 12 C-rated schools, one D-rated and one F, according to the state.
Complaints aren’t all centered around curriculum. Parents said Stranahan High had no swimming pool for four years and had to temporarily bench its swim team. A soccer league had no lit field to play, so parents shined headlights so children could see. Stranahan and Fort Lauderdale high schools still have no football stadium.
Mary Fertig, a 30-year schools activist and mother of six, said there are successes to consider: Fort Lauderdale’s magnet schools have hundreds of students on waiting lists. Dillard’s jazz ensemble is one of the top in the nation. Fort Lauderdale High, where she graduated, has a 99 percent graduation rate. Stranahan High has an engineering and medical science program that gives student on-the-job training.
Among the other findings in the survey:
— More than half those surveyed think the city is moving in the right direction. That’s an increase over years past.
— A great percentage, 67 percent, believe that poorly timed traffic signals contribute a lot to congestion.
— More than three-fourths were supportive of the city increasing enforcement against panhandling. Three fourths also said panhandling was their top concern with homelessness.
— As a place to visit, the city was rated positively by 89 percent.
— Residents are happy with police and fire services; 72 percent gave high marks.
— The lowest ratings for city services went to handling the flow of traffic and preparing for the future.
Fort Lauderdale school grades 2018
Bayview Elementary: A
Bennett Elementary: C
Croissant Park Elementary: C
Dillard Elementary: C
Floranada Elementary: B
Harbordale Elementary: A
North Fork Elementary: C
North Side Elementary: F
Riverland Elementary: C
Rock Island Elementary: D
StepheAn Foster Elementary: C
Sunland Early Learning Center: B
Thurgood Marshall Elementary: C
Virginia S. Young: A
Walker Elementary: C
Westwood Heights: B
New River Middle: C
Sunrise Middle: B
William Dandy Middle: C
Fort Lauderdale High: A
Sheridan Technical College: A
Stranahan High: C
Dillard 6-12: C
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