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Pembroke Pines ranked best place to raise kids

It's official: Pembroke Pines is the best place in Florida to raise your kids.

In BusinessWeek's second annual roundup of top child-rearing cities, Pembroke Pines, with a population of 165,000 and a median household income of $76,535, outshone the rest.

Determining factors included good schools and safety, which BusinessWeek weighted most heavily in its survey. Other Florida runners-up were Sunrise and Ocala.

Working with OnBoard Informatics, a New York-based provider of real estate analysis, BusinessWeek also considered such criteria as the number of schools, affordability, air quality, job growth, family income, cultural amenities and diversity. Selected towns had at least 50,000 residents and a median family income ranging from $40,000 to $100,000.

''When I found out, my chest was bursting and I popped all my buttons,'' Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said. ``I'm not surprised, just happy. I think we deserved it.''

Ortis had a hard time narrowing down the most family-friendly attributes of the city. Among his favorite features are the charter school system, the police force and, of course, the children.

BusinessWeek started its Best Places to Raise Your Kids survey last year because many of its readers are parents looking for affordable, family-oriented cities, according to Prashant Gopal, who wrote the story for the magazine.

Already, the survey has become one of the magazine's most popular features, he said.

Last year, BusinessWeek ranked the top 50 places to raise children.

Groesbeck, Ohio, a town of 7,200 near Cincinnati, got top billing because of its combination of safety, community and education, according to the magazine.

No Florida communities made the cut.

But this year, when the magazine conducted a state-by-state analysis, Pembroke Pines stood out.

''What's great about Pembroke Pines is that it's so close to Fort Lauderdale and Miami,'' Gopal said. ``That's a good thing because there are so many amenities nearby.''

BusinessWeek's designation is just one of a slew of awards Pembroke Pines has received in recent years. In 2004, the National Civic League named Pembroke Pines an All-American City. The charter school system has won at least four awards since receiving accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2002.

The charter schools aim to educate the whole student, academically and socially, said Sean Chance, principal of the Pembroke Pines Charter Schools East Campus. Most of the city's schools are A-grade, based on the state's grading system, he said.

Chance, a nine-year Pembroke Pines resident, said he especially enjoys the abundance of city-run sports programs for youth.

After the post-Hurricane Andrew population boom, Pembroke Pines has remained a family-oriented city, said Chance, who has two children.

''As fast as it's grown and as large as it's gotten, it still keeps that small-town feel as best it can,'' he said. ``The city takes family into consideration and finds ways to keep them together.''

The city has maintained its wholesome family values from its roots, which date back to 1930s dairy farmers, said city historian Gerry Witoshynsky. She has lived in the city for more than 50 years and raised her four children there.

''The city fathers were always interested in having good schools and recreation facilities for the kids,'' she said.