Liquid Courage for Kids

Palm Beach County Schools peddle their good name

Pull up a stool, kid. You want the Mickey shot of vodka or the SpongeBob tequila?

Hey, it's for a good cause. The kids from Indian Pines Elementary School in Lantana regularly bring home fliers encouraging families to encouraged to patronize JJ Muggs, a local sports bar. and grill. The school gets a percentage of the proceeds from some sales on designated family nights.

If you've never rolled over to Muggs, you may not be aware of the scummy-as-an-oil-slick issue of the gin joint deal. Though the place bills itself as "a sports grill for the whole family," locals know it more for its substantial beer selection, its full liquor bar, and its 25-plus TVs, all blazing the current sports action, than for its menu.

A Dania Beach vervet: Can life as he knows it continue?
Spencer Bruce
A Dania Beach vervet: Can life as he knows it continue?

How's this for family fare? The bar's front door now sports a sign advertising karaoke nights with "liquid courage" for contestants and shot specials for everybody.

Indian Pines really knows how to stick it to its students. The school doesn't stop at bar promotions. The kids also bring home fundraising stuff for everything from egg roll sales to Publix-sponsored candy tooth decay-athons.

It's all so disturbing, says the mother of one kindergartner who didn't want the tube to use her name.: "I'd rather concentrate on academics than economics...My son feels pressured -- like he gets in trouble if he doesn't get the response they want."

School officials are unabashed. It's what you do in a state where education is at the bottom of your list of priorities., The schools " can use all the help they can get," suggests Indian Pines principal Gail Pasterczyk. A manager at the bar was too busy to talk. An owner, Dana Pusateri, didn't return a phone message.

Palm Beach County schools have formal agreements with 560 business partners, including R.J. Gators Grill and Bar and the Gardens Ale House, Tailpipe has learned. As part of the deal, businesses check off items which they plan to provide the schools -- like "career awareness" or "donor/sponsorships." In return, the school offers services such as "assistance with "company special events," "notes from students," and "musical performances for partner."

In business circles, that's called a win-win.

To Tailpipe, it seems more of a win-lose, with kids getting the short end of the stick. After watching his own third-grade pipette's school turned into the Little FCAT Schoolhouse (forget about science or history, boys and girls, just spend your school day doing a lot of quick practice quizzes), he has to stand by as money-grubbing school officials open the doors to low-rent profiteers.

If Tailpipe hadn't opened his big cylindrical trap recently about those wild monkeys in Dania Beach, they might have gone on with their quiet, low-profile lives -- as quiet and low-profile as any monkeys can live -- on a marshy 19-acre tract on Dania Beach Boulevard. It's there that a troop of about 100 dusky-faced vervets swing through scrub pines, entertain the tourists in the Motel 6 parking lot, and dine on Cheez Doodles and apples segments left by their fans.

But after Tailpipe remarked on their presence recently, the daily newspapers waded in with their own stories, and the owner of the property, who has for a 288-unit project, began to get testy. Ocean Development has been quietly moving its plan -- including twin 14-story condo towers, which would make it the tallest residential building in town -- through the land-use process. The other night, the Dania Beach Commission voted unanimously, without comment, to rezone the site as a multi-family residential area. Next step: public comment.

But what about those monkeys?

Nobody is sure about where they came from. Vervets are an African species, and these may have escaped from an abandoned roadside attraction or a now-defunct research facility. All anybody really knows is that they've been there for 50 years and , despite being nearly decimated eight or nine years ago but a local trapper, they've thrived. Longtime Danians have developed a sentimental attachment to the little primates, and snow birds escaping the frigid Midwest often make a point of visiting with them at the Motel 6 fence.

But the monkeys' future is scarily uncertain, according to animal activists.

Not to worry, the site's developers say reassuringly. Less than a quarter of the site, which is owned by Denver resident Barry Morris, will go for the condos. The rest, the wetlands part, will remain undeveloped. "Besides," says Fort Lauderdale lawyer Bonnie Miskel, who represents the developers, Charles Putman & Associates , "there's a park next door -- a huge area -- to which the monkeys can migrate."

Not so fast. That huge park -- West Lake Park, which stretches along the Intracoastal -- is actually separated from the monkeys' habitat by busy Dania Beach Boulevard.

"These are smart animals," says Spencer Bruce, a Dania Beach sales representative who has taken an interest in the monkeys. "Relocating them in the vicinity is not a good idea. They'll know where they came from and then they'll be in the position of going through traffic again." As for the idea of leaving the monkeys on site in the wetlands: "These monkeys live on the [dry] ground. The only time they go into the trees is for sleep or protection."

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