Downtown Miami's charter school ready for board's review
By Catherine Lackner
A contract between the Downtown Development Authority and Miami-Dade Public Schools for a charter school is wending its way through the system with no problems, a district official said.
"The application was approved in the prior cycle and, at present, the DDA's contract has been submitted to the Contract Review Committee for negotiation," said Carlos Rodriguez, district director of the division of schools of choice.
Mr. Rodriguez said his office is requesting the proposal for a charter school in downtown Miami be placed on the Feb. 13 school board agenda. On March 13, the district plans to consider seven other charter applications.
The required contractual agreement is a wide-ranging document that includes "all operations of the school and all general provisions," Mr. Rodriguez said, and covers everything from class size to financial audits. Issues such as conflict resolution, academic accountability, the length of the school year, how students will be transported, liability insurance and myriad others are included, he said.
The school system has a boilerplate template that most charter applicants follow when drafting contracts, but there are always negotiating sessions to work out fine points, he said.
"Prior to review by the full school board, the Contract Review Committee will provide its recommendation to the superintendent," he said.
"At this point," Mr. Rodriguez said, "everything looks fine."
Once the contract is approved, he said, building can begin.
The school board action is nearly the last step in the authority's quest to create a charter school in downtown Miami.
The school is expected to cost $6 million, of which about $5 million will be financed by Charter Schoolhouse Developers. Under contract with the authority, the company will run the school for a percentage of revenues.
Charter Schoolhouse Developers, winner of bidding to run the downtown academy, also manages successful charter schools at Ryder System Inc. in West Dade and Coral Springs, said Joaquin Avino, company CEO. The downtown school will be run along similar lines.
While the school would be part of the Miami-Dade County School District, its management could be tailored by Charter Schoolhouse Developers to meet the specific needs and requirements of parents whose children are enrolled. There are now about 15 charter schools open in the county.
Money for teachers' salaries and other operational costs would be allocated by the Miami-Dade School System based on how many students enroll. The downtown school is planned to serve 500 K-5th-grade students, Mr. Avino said.
While a series of stumbling blocks have slowed the process, the official projection is that the school would be open in time for the 2002-03 school year.
The land for the school, a lot directly south of the City of Miami police station at 400 NW Second Ave., is owned by Miami-Dade County. The county agreed to swap it for the Hickman Building at Northwest Second Avenue and Second Street, a property owned by the City of Miami.
After the land swap was worked out, another factor came into play: the State of Florida is considering moving a juvenile courthouse facility to Northwest Third Street and First Avenue from 3300 NW 27th Ave.
Judge Joe Farina, chief judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit and a driving force for the new courthouse, has pledged that no one would be released from the courthouse, that no detainees would be kept there other than for trials and that there would be a buffer zone between the building and charter school.
He has said that the 15-story facility would provide "one-stop shopping" for parents and children in the juvenile justice system. He said it is also convenient to the Miami-Dade County Government Center, 111 NW First Ave., as well as to Metrorail and Metromover.
The charter school site won out over two other sites the authority originally considered when planning the school last summer.
The authority first had its eye on a plot adjacent to Bayside Marketplace, because it offered easy access to the central business district. But its waterfront location raised liability and cost issues.
Next, authority members looked to a vacant lot owned by the Miami Parking Authority adjoining Riverside Center, 444 SW Second Ave. But it was decided that that site was inferior to the property adjacent to the police station, which became the final choice.