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💪 Power plays
☀️Happy Tuesday! For you: Vouchers get a failing grade, West Palm rethinks who gets to run for mayor, Palm Beach Gardens grabs for land and Carolyn unwinds the dynamic art of yarn bombing.
Today’s newsletter is a 7-minute read.
💸 Out of reach: Local school voucher cash falls short
Only weeks into the school year, Florida’s massive expansion of state vouchers for private schools is ringing one alarm bell after another.
The Tampa Bay Times reports voucher money can now be spent on everything from Disney passes to 55-inch TVs. Some schools say the vouchers aren’t paying for anything at all: The money isn’t coming through.
And this: The voucher may not even get Palm Beach County students into private schools.
Of 105 local schools surveyed by Stet, only 85 took the vouchers.
Only seven of those posted tuition rates low enough to be fully paid with the average $7,700 provided by the new vouchers.
Of the seven, five were religious schools. One was online only.
Average tuition for the 85 ranged from $14,182 — usually for elementary school grades — to $15,303, almost double the state voucher amount.
Roughly two of every 10 schools posted tuition rates starting at $20,000 and rising from there.
Plus: Books, fees, uniforms, and meals tacked on hundreds more, pushing private school even further out of reach.
It’s a scenario critics warned of when Florida legislators this year made private school vouchers available to every K-12 student, regardless of family income.
The money would not be enough to bring private schools within reach of middle-class or lower-income families, they said. Instead, it would be a tuition discount for well-off families who didn’t need it.
Step Up for Success, which administers state vouchers, seemed to confirm that prediction this month: Of 122,895 students claiming vouchers for the first time, almost seven in 10 were already in private schools.
Money, though, is only one obstacle for parents seeking a good fit for their child.
Half of the 86 local schools were religious. Others served specific students’ needs: autism and dyslexia, for instance.
One focuses on French. One only accepts boys. One only accepts girls. At another, private financial aid is dependent on parents attending church weekly and making regular offerings.
What’s next? In a letter, 31 groups ranging from the Florida Council of Churches to Disability Rights Florida are pressing the Florida Department of Education for transparency on how vouchers are being handled.
⛔️ Running for WPB mayor: Business owners need not apply
A city’s charter is an extension of its people, a governing document so critical it can only be changed by a public vote.
In 1991, West Palm Beach residents, fed up with the city’s direction, petitioned their government to create a new position, a directly elected mayor.
The first strong mayor, Nancy Graham, convened a charter review committee, and after months of public meetings, pushed forward changes that cemented the mayor’s power.
The city is ready to change the document once more. At the request of Mayor Keith James, commissioners agreed Sept. 18 to ask voters to make two changes to the criteria for the mayor in March.
When asked why, the mayor’s spokeswoman, Diane Papadakos, said “I suspect it’s as simple as city charters should be reviewed regularly and adjusted accordingly.
That is what great leaders do.”
The first proposed change calls for mayoral candidates to have been a resident for at least one year.
The second could keep businessman Rodney Mayo from running for mayor again.
Mayo lost his spot on the ballot to challenge James this year when he couldn’t prove in court to have been a city resident for six months before the election, as required by the charter. During the dispute, he took steps to establish residency so he could qualify under a one-year limit.
Beyond Mayo, though, any business owner seeking the mayor’s seat would be financially hobbled.
Anyone who runs a business, must stop running it to serve as mayor, a job that pays $150,000 a year. The next mayor would be prohibited “from engaging in outside employment” and business relationships would be limited “to only those that would not impair, or could be reasonably expected to impair, the mayor's independence in judgment or performance of city duties.”
That’s a change from “The mayor … shall devote full time to the duties of that office.”
Commissioner Cathleen Ward asked how it would be enforced. If a resident saw the mayor at his business talking to an employee at lunchtime, would that trigger the law? And if so, what would happen?
City Attorney Kimberly Rothenburg’s answer: “I believe that it would be something a citizen would bring to a court that has the authority to declare that there is a violation or perhaps through a recall petition or something of that nature but there’s nothing in the charter.”
Yes, but: The charter itself instills the power to “enforce the provisions of this charter” in the mayor.
What’s next? If approved on second reading Oct. 2, the changes would go to city voters on March 19.
🪴 Gardens eyes growing boundaries
Palm Beach Gardens has annexed more land than any other city in Palm Beach County since 1989, county records show.
The biggest came in 1990: the 11,878-acre Loxahatchee Slough.
But no one lived on that land.
Now Gardens is proposing to annex neighborhoods that have been home to thousands of people for decades. In all, the city would absorb 3,928 dwelling units on 1,354 acres with 8,352 residents, city staff told the City Council Sept. 19.
Why it matters: Tax payments, police and fire coverage, garbage pickup — all of that changes when a city takes on roles previously played by the county.
The City Council gave its initial blessing to move toward a March 19 referendum where residents of Cabana Colony, Captain’s Key, Frenchman’s Landing and dozens of other neighborhoods would vote on whether to become part of the city.
The annexation area, all east of Interstate 95, is split into five zones with 682 residents in four of the zones and 7,670 residents in the fifth. Each zone votes separately. If a majority votes in favor, then that zone is in.
Gardens would move from seventh to the fourth most populous city in Palm Beach County.
Gardens would move past Jupiter, Wellington and Delray Beach.
It would be closing in on the top three: West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Boynton Beach.
What’s next? The city plans an open house Oct. 26 to begin showing residents the benefits of joining the city.
Then what? The effort also must pass county scrutiny and get formal City Council approval in November and December.
Joel in OnGardens.org was first to report on this story here.
🧉 The juice
Fresh-squeezed news from all over
👩🏽🍳 Thinking of a night out in the city? Miami News Times has released its annual list of essential restaurants.
🗞️ Lucy Morgan, a titan among Tallahassee news reporters and a Pulitzer Prize winner for the then-St. Petersburg Times, died Sept. 20 at age 82. (Tallahassee Democrat)
🚧 The shuttered $35 million Jupiter Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute isn’t the only building with a construction defect affecting Florida Atlantic University. On Sept. 1, the school closed the upper floors of a parking garage on the Boca Raton campus for structural repairs — until Dec. 15. The resulting parking crunch is making students late to class. “There were lots of times that could have been chosen to work on the garage, why choose an entire semester?” student Madeline King asked the University Press. “Unless there was some emergency that needed to be fixed immediately that they aren’t telling us about.” (University Press, FAU’s student newspaper)
🏛️ Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), who was indicted last week on corruption charges, was also indicted after a 2017 investigation probed ties between Menendez and South Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. They stood trial in federal court in connection with alleged favors given to Melgen after he paid for trips and expenses for Menendez. The men were acquitted of some charges; DOJ dropped the rest in that case. Melgen was convicted in 2018. Investigators said he falsely diagnosed and treated hundreds of elderly patients for macular degeneration, defrauding Medicare and other insurers out of millions of dollars. Both men maintained their innocence. In 2021, former President Donald Trump pardoned Melgen and commuted his 17-year prison sentence.
🧢 Cheers to the Jupiter Hammerheads for their first Florida State League Championship! (WPTV)
🏙️ Quiz: Look up!
Plenty of skyscrapers in West Palm Beach vie for the crown of tallest. But one high-rise reaches just a bit higher than the rest.
🧶 561 insider: Yarn bombs near you
A riot of joy has taken residence on a busy street in downtown Lake Worth Beach.
It’s a yarn bomb.
What’s happening: Artist Milena Arango created the public installation, called “Soul Talks with Palms,” this month on the former Havana Hideout property at 509 Lake Ave.
Anyone who has picked up a crochet needle or tried on a sweater made of granny squares can appreciate the color play of the vivid textiles against the verdant palms.
Q. What inspired your yarn bomb?
This is a project that was mainly thought of for kids. I learned to knit when I was very young, and it's something that I would love to share with the little ones.
Knitting/crocheting has so many therapeutic benefits that I think it's important to share these tools and, I hope, someday they’ll use them. I want to create a sacred place, a place where people would stop, sit down and observe. A place for all kinds of people no matter their religion, race or gender. A place for everybody to enjoy.
This installation was also inspired by the Wayuu indigenous culture of Colombia, people who have preserved their ancestral traditions and crafts for centuries. I have always wanted to learn how to knit like them and have always been fascinated by their colors and patterns.
Knitting is a way of connecting with my roots and expressing my identity.
🏈 Dolphins watch: That’s three in a row for the Miami Dolphins after a 70-20 drubbing Sunday of the Denver Broncos. The Dolphins rang up the most points scored by any NFL team since 1966.
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