A referendum put to certain Palmetto Bay residents about whether a local Alexander Montessori School could bump up enrolment from 270 to 329 students has again fallen short — despite an overwhelming majority of voters saying yes.
In the fallout from private parochial school Palmer Trinity’s controversial planned expansion, a voter-approved charter amendment has mandated since 2009 that any private school in the village seeking to increase enrolment first pose the question to any eligible voters living within 2,000 feet of the school. If at least 75 percent of votes cast approve the measure, the item can then be brought to council, where a four-fifths majority must say yes.
Of the 83 votes cast, 57 said yes to the school increasing enrollment — just under 69 percent. Turnout was low: of 310 eligible electors, only 27 percent cast a ballot. Most voted absentee, with only 37 coming out in person to the polls on April 21.
Montessori school headmaster James McGhee II said he was “disappointed, once again” by the vote’s outcome but “really grateful to all those folks who came out and voted for us.” The school has tried before to clear the charter-mandated 75 percent threshold with near identical results: they ran a referendum in 2013, and won 67.6 percent of the vote.
The school has maintained that the village’s 75 percent threshold is far too high, and last November, it asked voters to lower it to a simple majority. That measure failed too, with 51.4 percent voting against.
McGhee now says he hopes to get the village’s charter review committee — whose members are scheduled to be appointed by council members in May — to take up the issue. Any changes to the charter recommended by the committee will have to be approved in a village-wide referendum.