Brevard County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to start conflict-resolution proceedings with the school district in an attempt to halt the closing of three local schools.
That vote came after commissioners fell one vote short of starting formal legal proceedings against the district over the school board’s decision last week to close Clearlake Middle in Cocoa, Gardendale Elementary on Merritt Island and South Lake Elementary in Titusville.
School district officials cited financial and capacity reasons for closing the schools and moving students to nearby schools. The school closings are part of a larger cost-cutting effort by the district, which is trying to shave $30 million off its budget.
School Board Chair Barbara Murray declined to comment on the commission’s decision, saying she first wanted to discuss the matter with the school board's attorney, Local 6 News partner Florida Today reported.
There was some confusion during Tuesday’s County Commission meeting after commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of legal action. Parents and other supporters of keeping the schools open left the meeting thinking the County Commission was taking the strongest possible action against the school district.
But, about two hours later, the issue came up again, when County Attorney Scott Knox told commissioners they actually needed four out of five votes to authorize a lawsuit.
Commission Chairman Andy Anderson and Commissioner Trudie Infantini voted against the lawsuit both in an initial vote and in a revote after Knox’s clarification, saying they were not ready to take that step.
The commission then voted to take the conflict-resolution route as an alternative.
Commissioner Chuck Nelson said he was disappointed the commission couldn’t get the four votes needed for a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the school closing process from moving forward.
By going with conflict resolution, rather than a lawsuit, Nelson said the county takes the risk of dragging out the process so long that it would be too late for the school district to switch course.