Two plans for relocating the students were considered by the school board. One included dividing the students up amongst three closer local schools. The other considered bussing them over 20 miles to Pines Middle School. Both options involved completely disrupting the environment in which the students have become accustomed as well as placing an undue burden on parents that rely on having their kids in a school close to home. The School Board estimated the transportation costs to be about $250,000 for the implementation of either plan, but consideration of other collaterals costs did not appear to be contemplated.
This plan was most likely considered because it paled in comparison to the nearly $9 million dollars that would be needed to build a portable campus. The portable campus would house students while the school buildings are being rebuilt and repaired.
The relocation left community members aghast and they were quick to rally and let their voices be heard.
On July 21, 2022 Jeff Barnes, a member of the Living In Oakland Park Facebook Group, shared this message from one of the Broward County School Board’s most recent members, teacher Sarah Leonardi:
I wanted to update you on what took place regarding Rickards at Tuesday’s board meeting. Items JJ-13 and JJ-15 were approved by the board. That means that the life safety systems will be rebuilt/repaired so Buildings 2 and 5 can come online and that Building 1 will be demolished and rebuilt. In my opinion, that’s good news. However, JJ-14 (the item to fund the building of a portable campus) was deferred to Thursday’s meeting (July 22 in the afternoon). Other board members raised concerns about spending money to build a portable campus and asked staff to explore other options. One of those options was splitting grade levels up among different schools for the 3 years while Building 1 is replaced. The other option suggested by other board members was keeping 8th grade at Northeast for 3 years and having only enough portables on Rickards for 6th and 7th grade. I do not support these options. I implored the board to reconsider and invest in the portable campus fully at Rickards so that grade levels would not be split up. I was in the minority. If you do not want Rickards to be split up over the course of three years, I encourage you to email the board and get 10 others to email the board to support item JJ-14 and to support fully investing in the portable campus so that all Rickards grade levels can stay together for the three years it will take to rebuild. You can email all of us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again for your continued advocacy.
Oakland Park Mayor, Jane Bolin, at the City’s July 21st Commission meeting encouraged residents to contact the school board to voice their discontent.
Oakland Park City Commissioner, Matthew Sparks, who staunchly opposed splitting up the students, sent the following the School Board.
I want to thank you for making the right decision on Items JJ- 13 & JJ- 15, I also want to express my SUPPORT regarding ITEM JJ-14. I am an Oakland Park Resident & Tax Payer... I am Outraged that you would put a price tag on keeping our 6th and 7th graders together, these children are used to Community and enjoy walking to school. I DO NOT WANT RICKARDS TO BE SPLIT UP. ANYTHING LESS THAN THE SUPPORT OF ITEM JJ-14 AND FULLY INVESTING IN THE PORTABLE CAMPUS, SO THAT OUR STUDENTS CAN STAY TOGETHER, IS UNACCEPTABLE. HOW CAN YOU PUT A PRICE TAG ON THAT? OAKLAND PARK HAS HAD MANY CHALLENGES WITH THE SCHOOL BOARD IN THE PAST, LET THIS ONE HAVE A HAPPIER ENDING.
The School Board paid heed to the concerns voiced by Rickards’ families and the of the Oakland Park Community and they voted in favor of JJ-14. The price tag of the portables is only $9 million dollars, but to the families whose kids go to Rickards Middle School, the win is priceless. They will be able to attend school in the community in which they live and not have their academic lives disrupted yet again.
It was the right thing to do and Oakland Park Mayor Jane Bolin shared her gratitude with the community.
On behalf of the City Commission, I would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the School Board of Broward County for its commitment to invest approximately $81 million in our Oakland Park community. We are grateful for their approval to rebuild and repair the damaged buildings at Rickards Middle School, as well as their unanimous decision to install temporary portable classrooms. We recognize the difficult decisions they faced in light of their fiduciary responsibility to our public schools. You cannot put a price tag on the value of the Rickards community and importance of keeping the fabric of that community intact after they have gone through so much in the past year. We are thrilled the School Board has provided short and long-term solutions that will allow Rickards students to stay together and continue their education at their neighborhood middle school during construction. We appreciate the School Board's continued support and dedication to find the best path forward for our students, parents, teachers, and everyone in the Rickards family. We would like to thank School Board Member Sarah Leonardi and our Oakland Park School Advisory Board for their advocacy on our behalf. We would also like to thank those who participated throughout this process and provided their input. We look forward to our continued partnership to enhance Oakland Park as we complete renovations at Northeast High School and initiate repairs at Rickards Middle School.
Stay tuned to LivingInOaklandPark.com for more information about the plans for rebuilding and repairing Rickards Middle School as well as the implementation of the portables.
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Désirée Ávila has called Oakland Park her home for over 33 years. In addition to publishing LivingInOaklandPark.com, Désirée has been featured in print publications, locally and abroad. Désirée was an award winning teacher for 10 years and has a doctoral level education in Educational Technology. She is currently a licensed Florida Realtor® and is committed to a high-level of professionalism.
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