Downtown Development Agency Files Charter Application
Written by Catherine Lackner on October 5, 2000
By Catherine Lackner
The gears are in motion for a charter school sponsored by Miami’s Downtown Development Authority that could accept students as early as August 2002.
Three sites are under consideration: a plot adjacent to Bayside Marketplace, behind the Hard Rock Cafe; a vacant lot north of the City of Miami Administration Building on Southwest Second Avenue and the Miami River, and a site in the Government Center area next to the City of Miami police station on Northwest Second Avenue.
Parents have already started to inquire about the school, said Alfonso Menendez, the development authority’s chief of staff.
"Even among our own staff, several people are interested," he said. "We have parents who have problems with getting their kids to school. They are very interested in this."
Working through the weekend, authority staffers met an Oct. 1 deadline to apply for the school, which the authority’s directors endorsed last month.
"We’ve always said we wanted to be facilitators for this," board member Carlos Migoya said.
"We don’t want to own the school — we don’t want the liability," said Miami Commissioner Willy Gort, authority chairman. But the authority has accepted responsibility for filing the application and moving the project forward.
The Bayside site for the school is preferred because it offers easier access to the central business district, "which is more geared to the east than to the west," Mr. Gort said.
Issues of site selection and a prospective budget can be resolved now that the application is filed.
But a timely filing is important, said Joaquin G. Avino, president of Charter Schoolhouse Developers Inc., which will manage the school for the development authority, because "any delay results in the opening being delayed for a full year, since it is not an option to open a charter school after the school year has commenced."
And, he said, a site would have to be set before the charter application is ruled on next spring. If Miami-Dade schools and the State of Florida approve it next spring, the school should open for the 2002-03 school year.
Charter Schoolhouse Developers, winner of a bid competition to run the school, also manages a charter school at Ryder Systems Inc. in West Dade, Mr. Avino said.
If it comes to fruition, the downtown school would be run along similar lines: while it would officially be under the jurisdiction of the Miami-Dade County Public School Board, its management could be tailored to the requirements of parents whose children are enrolled there.
Funding for teachers’ salaries and other operational costs is allocated by Miami-Dade schools based on how many students enroll full time. The school system withholds 5% of the money for administrative expenses.
The downtown charter school is envisioned with a capacity of 500 students in grades K-5. At the Ryder school, which is similar in student population, a 30,000-square-foot building serves as the campus. A space of about that size at Bayside, Mr. Avino said, would suffice, assuming a safe space could be arranged in Bayfront Park for children to exercise outdoors.
The Downtown Development Authority will create a nonprofit corporation for the charter school and will be responsible for securing the site.
"In order for the project to be economically viable, the site must be made available to us by the DDA," Mr. Avino said in a letter to Patti Allen, the authority’s executive director. "The Bayside and the Riverside sites are both under the ownership in some fashion of the City of Miami and the DDA needs to acquire control of the site or sites by either a transfer or long-term lease, i.e., 90 years."
"We’ve got to drive the process," agreed board member Jack Peeples.
"The whole idea is to be flexible," Mr. Avino said. "You’re working within the same standards but you’re able to have a lot more control. The overall education system is in the midst of a major transformation. Charter schools are on the forefront of that." Details: Downtown Development Authority, (305) 579-6675; Charter Schoolhouse Developers, (305) 668-2200.