Could consolidating schools help Brevard Public Schools’ budget challenges?

School board members brought up the topic in a candidate debate

A classroom in the Brevard Public Schools district.

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – After a few tumultuous years of budget cuts, enrollment shifts, and teacher shortages, two Brevard County School Board members have brought up the possibility that Brevard Public Schools could consolidate its small community schools in the future to tackle the district’s budget woes, according to News 6 partners Florida Today.

School Board Chair Misty Belford and member Katye Campbell brought up the possibility during a candidate debate last week when asked how to tackle BPS’ budget challenges.

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“I really cringe to talk about (consolidating schools), but I think as a community we have to,” Belford said. “We have approximately 20 more schools in Brevard County than Seminole County to serve approximately the same number of students. … Each of those schools costs us approximately $1 million per year to run.”

Campbell agreed.

“If we’re going to make the best use of our dollars, we’re going to have to put every option on the table and if closing a very small community school is best for our budget, then we’re going to have to consider (that),” Campbell said.

BPS spokesman Russell Bruhn said there haven’t been any official talks about consolidating schools, and the district hopes it won’t come to that. But, he cautioned, in the future, if enrollment doesn’t rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and the district can’t find other solutions, consolidating small schools could be a possibility.

“We’ve cut about $38 million from our budget over the last handful of years and we are dedicated to not cutting programs,” Bruhn said. “And as we look at all the options on the table, year to year, how we manage our facilities is one of those options.”

Brevard has 84 traditional public schools. Many of them have relatively low enrollments; Theodore Roosevelt Elementary in Cocoa Beach is the smallest, tallying 263 students last fall, while Sea Park Elementary in Satellite had 299 and Cape View Elementary had 278. Most of BPS’ elementary schools have only a few hundred students.

Belford said Brevard’s small schools are expensive to run, and fewer, larger schools could save the district money.

Belford said the district has already whittled away much of the fat from the budget and finding solutions to meet needs such as salary raises for employees has become difficult.

“Just to give you some perspective, a 1% raise for employees in our district costs us approximately $5 million,” Belford said. “So can I go in and find $100,000 here and $100,000 there that can be reallocated? Absolutely. But as far as finding enough dollars to make a really significant impact on any of the areas that we’re facing challenges in, not at this point.”

Bruhn said a rebound in enrollment has been slow in coming — and the population growth in Brevard could mean the district never seriously considers closing and consolidating schools. He pointed out that a new middle school is set to be built in Viera, a fast-growing area in Brevard.

“We are excited about the continued growth of the county and the state as people move here. And we’re hopeful that we will continue to see people understand that Brevard Public Schools is objectively the best option for their children when it comes to programs and that our enrollment will continue to climb in the next couple of years,” Bruhn said. “That’s how we would prefer to handle things.”

Both Campbell and Belford said the idea was bound to be unpopular, and that the community would have to have a tough conversation before moving forward.

“Brevard County loves their community schools,” Belford said. “And so that’s not something that I would embark on without a lot of community conversation because I think that we have to make sure that we are embodying the priorities and values of our community as well.”