More families than ever are moving to the suburb of Doral, and the Miami-Dade County school district wants to make sure those families pick public schools.
The school board on Wednesday will vote on a proposed land swap that would result in a new district-run school being built where a charter school had been planned. It would be the second new school in Doral in just a few years.
The move is seen as a win for the district, which has been losing an increasing number of students to privately-run charter schools, which take state funding with them.
“There is a need in Doral. That need is going to be met by someone if not by us,” board member Raquel Regalado said during a recent school board committee meeting. “We were all pleased when we were able to stop having the conversation about a charter and start having a conversation about a public school.”
Not everyone applauds the change, though. Miami-Dade is giving up an unneeded plot of land near West Kendall in exchange for the new school site in Doral. The swap, which would give the West Kendall land to home-building giant Lennar, could mean more home construction in a far-flung exurb that already struggles with nightmarish traffic.
“You’ve got to build up an enormous energy reserve to get in your car to go someplace,” said Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations president Michael Rosenberg. “So I think anybody would tell you we don’t want anything else [built] here.”
Doral is in the midst of a population boom, with 5,600 residential units planned over the next several years. Unlike other growth areas, such as downtown Miami, the increase in Doral is being fueled in significant part by families.
While the number of children enrolled in Miami schools shrunk by 13 percent between 2009 and 2013, it surged by about 78 percent in Doral, according to Census figures.
All those kids need to go to school. Increasingly, they’re choosing charters.
Jack Marquez moved from West Kendall to Doral in 2010 after choosing to send his son to Doral Academy Preparatory, a charter school. His son has graduated, but now Marquez’s daughter goes there.
“It was a better school and it was closer to work, and it was an ‘A’ school,” said Marquez, 46, who works in the Doral area for a medical company.
There are 11 charter schools in Doral, including Downtown Doral Elementary, which will debut when classes begin Aug. 24. In a unique partnership, the 800-student school was built with private money but will be run by the school district.
Another charter was slated for a four-acre plot at Northwest 102nd Avenue and 77th Terrace, to be built by an affiliate company of Lennar. Plans called for a 2,000-student school serving kindergarten through 12th grade.
On Wednesday, the school board will vote to allow the superintendent to finalize negotiations to take over the land. The public school would serve 1,200 students in grades kindergarten through eighth.
“With us or without us, there will be a school in Doral,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said during a recent school board committee meeting. “We can choose not to engage … and allow a management company take over the development of a school in Doral, or not.”
In the exchange, Lennar would get a 25-acre plot of district-owned land in West Kendall. Lennar would also agree to pay the district $2.9 million, the difference in appraisal values for the land.
A Lennar spokesman did not return a request for comment, but school officials say up to 85 homes could be built on the land. That’s a problem for board member Marta Perez. When the board discussed the swap during a recent committee meeting she jokingly asked for a box of tissues.
“Every time we talked about this parcel, I said: Please, let’s not let it contribute to the problem that we have, which is developers building bedroom communities,” she said. “I just think that it’s not good public policy. I’m fine about building a school, but I’m not fine about how this is being done.”
The district put up land in West Kendall for sale twice, but didn’t get any proposals, said Chief Facilities Officer Jaime Torrens. The district doesn’t need the land since there are plenty of schools nearby, Torrens said.
Perez said she’d rather see the land used for public purposes, though Torrens noted there’s a 10-acre park less than a mile away.
In Doral, the district’s new school will be built no earlier than 2018. First, the city of Doral has to approve changes to a development agreement that was previously approved for the proposed charter school.
In other business Wednesday, the school board will vote on a diversity and anti-discrimination policy that will apply to the way the district contracts with women- and minority-owned businesses.
This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with the Miami Herald and WLRN. Become a source at MiamiHerald.com/insight.
Miami Herald reporter Nicholas Nehamas contributed to this report.
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