Homestead could get three new schools
By Sherri C. Ranta
A residential developer could add three schools in Homestead under a new state program in which land is collected from homebuilders and impact fees from residents.
Approval of the Homestead Educational Facilities Benefit District is expected this fall from the City of Homestead and the Miami-Dade County commission, said Lynda Bell of the Homestead City Council, expected to clear the way for developer Michael Latterner of M&H Homestead to begin construction of the first school.
County school officials have approved the district, she said, after a guarantee that they could retain rights to running the new schools.
"We will really be setting the trend," Ms. Bell said. "Very often, the school board can't do it, the county can't do it. Someone has to step up."
Educational facilities benefit districts include residential neighborhoods with specific boundaries. Homestead's action stands to be the second of its kind in Florida. Osceola County officials approved the state's first such district last year after the mechanism was created by the Legislature.
Under the plan, the new Homestead schools will be built on land from Mr. Latterner's company, Ms. Bell said. The land, with an estimated value of $6 million to $10 million, and school buildings will become property of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
"This is strictly a funding mechanism allowing for building and funding of schools in the area where the school board is not able to meet the needs," Ms. Bell said.
Created by Florida legislators, an educational benefits district collects impact fees and must use the money to build schools specifically serving communities under construction.
Residents in the Homestead benefits district will pay an additional $15 a month for about 30 years in school taxes. The additional fees will pay for the second and third elementary schools planned in the district and building maintenance.
A seven-member board will govern the district and be appointed by the school board, the city, majority landowners and developers, Ms. Bell said.
Under the agreement reached with the school district, Mr. Latterner will build the first school as a turnkey operation and will be reimbursed by the district.
The Homestead district's new schools will be designed for as many as 2,100 student workstations. School officials expect a need in the community for 5,500 workstations to serve 10,700 homes.
Miami-Dade Public Schools Facilities Director Fernando Albuerne said other South Florida cities such as Doral could benefit from the new funding mechanism. District officials project Doral's student population to grow by 8,000 to 9,000 in the next few years.
"I think it's a good idea. It would be a tremendous help financially. If we can get developers to do the same thing that Mr. Latterner did in Homestead and donate the land, it will make it much easier."