Charter school runs into snags over plans for gun range nextdoor
By Catherine Lackner
New wrinkles have popped up in the Downtown Development Authority's quest to put a charter school in downtown Miami, but authority board members who last week approved a contract for the school say they're confident the problems can be worked out.
Board members said they still expect the school to open in August.
Matthew Gorson, who with Carlos Migoya has guided the project through miles of red tape, told fellow board members last week that two disputes have arisen with the city.
The city, which owns the school site at Northwest Third Avenue and Third Street, wants the right to relocate the school's parking lot to use the land for police training and possibly a gun range under I-95, Mr. Gorson said, and wants the authority to pay an undisclosed sum in "pilot fees" in lieu of taxes.
"Needless to say, we think a gun range is incompatible with an elementary school," he said.
Mr. Gorson said pilot fees are unfair because the property isn't bringing in taxes now and the school isn't for private use.
"To me, these are two big issues that have to be resolved," Mr. Gorson said.
"Isn't this city land?" asked Johnny Winton, Miami commissioner and authority chair. "What the hell are we doing?"
Assistant City Attorney Olga Ramirez-Seijas said she thought both issues had been settled in an earlier contract between the authority and the city.
"It was not fully approved," Mr. Gorson said. "I thought that site was going to be a training facility if we didn't get the charter," hence removal of the parking area would not be an issue. "And we really don't have the pilot fees in the budget. We can't afford to pay them."
Mr. Winton said he would take up the matter with City Manager Carlos Gimenez and other ranking officials. The board voted to approve the contract as is, with the understanding it would be revised before going to a city commission vote.
As the contract stands, the cost of building and equipping the school is $5.4 million to $6.4 million, to be paid by Charter Schoolhouse Developers, a group headed by former Miami-Dade County Manager Joaquin Aviņķ.
Funding is to come primarily through a $4.2 million line of credit from Union Planters Bank.
The city will hold retain and lease the land to the authority through a 501c3 non-profit corporation called Downtown Miami Charter School Inc. Once built, the school is to be run by Charter Schools USA Inc. for a percentage of revenues.
Charter Schoolhouse Developers, winner of bidding to run the downtown academy, also built a charter school for Ryder System Inc. in West Dade and another in Coral Springs.
While the school would be under the Miami-Dade County School Board, its management could be tailored to meet needs of parents. About 15 charter schools now operate in the county.
Money for teacher salaries and other operational costs would be allocated by the Miami-Dade School System based on how many students enroll. The downtown school would serve 500 kindergarten through 5th grade pupils, Mr. Aviņķ said.
Land on which the school is to rise directly south of the City of Miami police station, 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, owned by the city.