Miami considers building charter school on Virginia Key
By Susan Stabley
The City of Miami wants to open a charter school and is eyeing its property near a Virginia Key magnet school.
City officials said the site at 3979 Rickenbacker Causeway is one of many being considered for a school. It would help serve an expected influx of children arriving with a surge in residential development, they say.
The property is already owned by the city and near the Maritime and Science Technology School, or MAST Academy. Commissioner Johnny Winton told a room full of local business people about the city's interest in adding schools near the downtown area at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce event last week at Miami City Club.
"Schools are on our agenda," said Commissioner Winton. "How can we do any worse?" he said in reference to the Miami-Dade County school system.
Mr. Winton said a school on Virginia Key could serve students from Key Biscayne, downtown Miami and Coconut Grove.
A charter school opened by Miami's Downtown Development Authority in 2002 is flourishing. The tuition-free Downtown Miami Charter School was intended in part to accommodate the children of commuters throughout South Florida and according to school officials, at least 65% of its pupils have a parent who works downtown.
That school, which operates as part of the county's public school system, is at its capacity of 625 pupils for kindergarten though sixth grade and has a waiting list for next year, principal Alicia Rodriguez Bower said.
"We are receiving interest from people moving in Neo Lofts now," Ms. Bower said Monday. "The demand will be there."
The city has also launched a flurry of educational programs. In 2003, it started a summer reading program through 26 parks, reaching more than 2,000 children and employing 41 teachers.
Computer labs and programs are also being established and Mayor Manny Diaz has said he will work with Sylvan Learning Centers to create a partnership for year-round instruction at the parks. The city supports mentoring programs and the mayor has said he wants to expand an Adopt-a-Classroom program into every school in the city.
During his State of the City Address last month, Mayor Diaz said the city would target medicine, hospitality management, banking and finance and travel and tourism through a charter or magnet school. Another charter school, he said, could use Miami's consular corps to create a school for international studies.
"Obviously, it's a critical piece to a city's economic health," said Otto Boudet-Murias, senior adviser for economic development to Mayor Diaz.
He said the city is working with the county school district to try to build more schools in the city.
"They are aware of the volume of development coming online," he said Monday. "Under no event would we run [the schools]."
A year ago the city considered taking over a school system program as a pilot project to reduce the size of school districts, but legislation for the proposal failed. This year, Mr. Boudet-Murias said, "it's not an item we pushed."