Downtown/Biscayne Corridor

Miami-Dade Schools

Proposal emerges for new public downtown Miami school

 

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

Following a development boom that in recent years nearly doubled the population of downtown Miami, a small group of politicos and business boosters is quietly discussing a project that some have desired for years: a new public school.

In recent weeks, members of the downtown business community, Miami City Hall and the Miami-Dade School Board have talked about establishing a school serving the greater downtown area, now home to about 65,000 residents. They’re looking at a site just north of the historic Miami City Cemetery, where the city and Temple Israel of Greater Miami own land on downtrodden Northeast Second Avenue and 19th Street.

“The downtown urban core is ripe for a really good, exceptional, downtown public high school,” said Ben Kuehne, a prominent Miami attorney and past Temple Israel president who is involved in discussions. “If the school board is interested in looking around downtown to figure how to jumpstart a public high school, then we want to be a part of that equation.”

Exactly what a new school would look like, what grades it would serve, or how it would operate isn’t yet clear. Those involved in the discussions, which were first revealed by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado during a meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board, say talks are preliminary. Only a few would comment when contacted by a reporter.

But Kuehne said the area around 19th Street would make an excellent location because Miami’s Biscayne Park is there, along with surrounding Temple Israel properties that in some cases either already have classrooms or could be redeveloped. He said discussions have also included private support for start-up costs, and programming potentials, like offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum to seats reserved for a combination of students from downtown and across the county.

Players in key positions are also involved, including Regalado, his daughter Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, and auto magnate Norman Braman — who already partners with the district on an automotive vocational program. There’s also interest from Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, whose administration has fostered school partnerships with developers, cities and businessmen like Braman.

“We’ve not allocated any resources or done a site inspection. But I think the idea is a very refreshing idea and it addresses an issue that at some point needs to be resolved anyway,” Carvalho said, referencing the condo boom and growing number of downtown families with kids. “Just in terms of the number of units online currently, plus what’s projected, will put us in a situation where if we don’t deliver a solution somebody else will. This is a very competitive environment, these days.”

A map created this summer by Miami’s semi-autonomous Downtown Development Authority, or DDA, shows charter and private schools speckled throughout downtown. Of the 17 K-12 schools in the area, only a few are traditional public schools, like Booker T. Washington Senior High, which serves most of downtown.

That’s no longer enough according to Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents the area and chairs the DDA, which is tasked with helping downtown business grow. The agency has said for years that better school options are needed to grow a community.

In 2000, it spent $100,000 to help open the Downtown Miami Charter School, which now has a waiting list of almost 300. A recent survey by the DDA shows there are more than 6,000 school-aged children now living downtown.

“We may need to look at trying to adopt a second school,” said Sarnoff, who said he has met with Raquel Regalado on the issue.

Kuehne and others also cite what they say is a need for community-building aided by a major public school with athletic, social and artistic functions. It’s something pursued not only by Temple Israel, but also by the board of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which wants to partner with the school district for a new performing arts magnet school just north of the MacArthur Causeway.

Whether any of this happens remains to be seen. The School Board has yet to approve negotiations between Carvalho and the Arsht Center, and for now, there’s no concrete proposal for the Temple Israel location.

But Javier Betancourt, deputy director of the DDA, said the desire to make something happen with the school district is clear, as is the need to provide more options to the thousands of teenagers now living in the area.

“What we could use more of is traditional schools, probably at the middle school and high school level,” he said. “It’s desperately needed and hugely desired.”

Miami Herald staff writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.

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