More than 20 states have considered such laws. The issue got national attention after California passed a version in 2010 and was featured this year in the movie Won’t Back Down — which also drew protests from parent activists who saw it as propaganda in the education reform debate.Mindy Gould, legislative chairwoman for the Florida PTA, said parents found the so-called “parent trigger” law misleading because the local school board would review parents’ plan and state education administrators would have the final say. Gould said parents were concerned about taking away local control.
“With the push for charters, are they ultimately looking to turn the school over to a private management company?” Gould asked. She said parent education is essential. “You’ve got to make sure that the parents that are currently at the school or incoming to the school know what’s going on. It can’t be two parents, it can’t be a handful.”
Academics are not the issue for parents seeking to convert the Key Biscayne K-8 Center; it’s the facilities.
The school has a section dating to the 1950s and enrolls about 1,300 students, more than its 1,000 capacity.
A 2008 report recommended razing the 1950s buildings and some renovations have been completed. More are expected: $2 million worth paid for by the village and the $1.2 billion bond referendum recently approved to fix schools countywide.
But Cambó and Ceballos say the fixes won’t come fast enough or solve the problem.
“This school must come down,” Cambó said.
Cambó and Ceballos are officers of the PTA, but are acting on their own, even if their own children wouldn’t immediately benefit. “My heart is in the right place,” Cambó said.
They believe a new campus can get built with renovation money from the village and private fundraising if necessary.
It’s not clear how much support they have on the tight-knit, affluent island. Local politicians, the principal and the PTA have not taken up the issue. A previous attempt to pursue a municipal charter high school failed in 2008.
Key Biscayne Vice Mayor Michael Kelly said the school is struggling with capacity as more families move to the island, but a charter conversion is not a viable solution.
“I don’t think the community as a whole would support a charter, especially if it means losing the great academic experience we already have,” he said.
Jackie Kellogg, a Key Biscayne parent who volunteers at the school and whose daughter previously attended a charter, praised the staff and principal: “I feel we have a really great school, and we attract some of the best teachers, so why would you want to change that?”
Said School Board member Raquel Regalado, who represents Key Biscayne: “I think our district has engaged and involved parents that have been complaining about the facilities. It’s not like parents are complaining about curriculum.”
Cambó said they do not want to have an outside management company involved
His brother has experience with charters. Robert Cambó’s company, Alliance X, is the landlord for the Excelsior Language Academy and Excelsior Charter High, two charters in Hialeah. The schools paid $938,000 in lease expenses to Cambó’s company in 2010-11, records show.
Cambó said they are looking to the example of Harold Maready, who opened one of the first converted charters in Florida in 1998. Now the superintendent over three charters, Maready said they run the schools so efficiently, they can reinvest $200,000 to $500,000 in total a year. “I see conversion charter schools as another way to manage public schools. You have academic accountability, you have financial accountability,” Maready said. He said the process for charter conversions has gotten bogged down in legal issues.
“Superintendents across the state are against conversion charter schools. They have set up road blocks to prevent them,” he said.
Miami Herald staff writer Scott Hiaasen contributed to this report.