A new grade school with the coveted MAST brand could emerge on Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus — as long as surrounding communities are willing and able to make it happen.
Talks between FIU and Miami-Dade County Public Schools administrators about building a school for grades 6 through 12 at the university’s campus in North Miami have intensified recently, and further negotiations were endorsed this month by the Miami-Dade School Board.
The idea: Capitalize on the university’s faculty, research labs and bayfront land by building a school with a marine science theme, similar to the successful and popular MAST Academy on Virginia Key.
But the new school’s future — and how much it would cost — isn’t certain. What gets built, if anything, hinges on “funding support” from surrounding municipalities. And that’s not a given.
“I knew they were working on this, but I have not heard about us putting in any money,” North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo said recently. “We’ll have to discuss the money issues, but I believe that high-quality education options are good for the cities and good for the communities.”
Leaders in North Miami Beach and neighboring municipalities will be the latest in Miami-Dade to consider whether their cash-strapped communities should plunge dollars into public education, which is already heavily funded by local property taxes.
Since the mid-2000s, more than a half-dozen communities have entered into land and cash deals with the district to expand school choices, alleviate crowding and create new programming.
“It has become known out there that this is a viable way of swiftly delivering on solutions to communities,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “Now we are approached with ideas just as often as we approach the municipalities.”
Earlier this month, in a stretch of just two days, the School Board voted to negotiate terms with nearby cities for the new school at FIU, and the city of Homestead’s Community Redevelopment Agency voted to contribute $775,000 toward an expansion of West Homestead Elementary to a science, math and technology-themed K-8 Center. The School Board also agreed to change the names of two schools in Cutler Bay as part of a nearly $3 million deal with the town to turn two under-enrolled middle schools into a grades 6-12 academy with brand-new science facilities.
Driving these agreements, which can take years to finalize, is residents’ desire for better schools, as well as the district’s own budget woes, created by dwindling state and local funding sources for capital projects. Saddled with a $2 billion backlog $2 billion backlog in maintenance and capital needs, the school district has negotiated deals in which some municipalities have spent millions to court and fast-track new school development and expansions.
Among the district’s partners:
• Sunny Isles Beach, which has spent about $15 million to buy land for the Norman Edelcup/Sunny Isles Beach K-8 Center and to fund and finance an expansion.
• North Miami, which donated two parcels of land to build what is now the Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High and the new North Miami Senior High, and helped finance the schools’ construction.