Pinecrest

For 17 years, Gulliver Prep had too many students. Will they be allowed to stay?

sballestas@miamiherald.com

For 17 years, Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest has been in violation of a county resolution that caps its enrollment at 650 students, and on at least six occasions has provided the city with information that stated otherwise.

No one in local government knew it was an issue until last summer, when the village of Pinecrest received an anonymous letter. It wasn’t until December that the prestigious private school — which recently appointed new top administrators — finally admitted it had 780 students. Just last week Gulliver disclosed that it had exceeded its enrollment cap for almost two decades.

During those years, municipal government changed. When Pinecrest incorporated in 1996, the village took over responsibility for planning and land use from the county. As recently as 2011, Gulliver’s former administrators told the city the school was in compliance with the enrollment cap.

But that wasn’t true, the city learned last week, just 24 hours before the Village Council was scheduled to vote on allowing more students.

“Based on the recent information the school provided, that does not seem to have been the case over the past 17 years,” said Guido H. Inguanzo, Pinecrest’s village clerk.

An anonymous letter writer tipped off the city a year ago that the school was violating the cap on its enrollment.

In 2011, the school’s former top administrator, John Krutulis , told Pinecrest officials in a letter that the school had 650 students. But recent documents provided by Gulliver’s new administrative team showed the school actually had 757 students that year.

“At a zoning hearing in June 2012, the school’s representative indicated on the record that they were not then seeking a change in the cap. It now appears they were in violation of the condition at that time,” Inguanzo added.

All of the times that the school provided incorrect information were under the old administration.

Krutulis, who hasn’t been with the school for about three years, told the Miami Herald on Thursday that “that was the number that was given to me by the admissions office at the time. I didn’t knowingly give inaccurate information.”

Gulliver Prep sits on Kendall Drive and 65th Avenue near Dadeland Mall. The 14-acre campus boasts competitive programs for students in grades 9-12. Tuition starts at $34,000, according to Gulliver’s website. Tuition for the proposed 140 student increase in the cap would make an annual difference of roughly $4.8 million.

As the school’s enrollment grew, so did conflicts over students parking their cars off campus on nearby city swales and private driveways, prompting an anonymous writer — who claimed to be a Pinecrest resident and Gulliver parent — to tip off the village government to the violation in June 2016.

“You will find that Gulliver Preparatory continues to increase its student population in spite of what I understand to be an agreement with Pinecrest and their duty to offer its students and their families the best education in small classroom settings,” said the anonymous tipster.

The letter continued: “We, as Gulliver families, feel that we’re not receiving the value for what we pay for. Clearly there are too many students in the campus, especially when they bring the students from the satellite campus at lunch time. As residents of Pinecrest, we see the problem, with the congestion in the morning and cars in residential streets.”

About 1,400 students from all Miami-Dade high schools -- including Ransom and Gulliver - will be attending a Health Information Project session on Wednesday morning at the University of Miami's Watsco Center.

Now the school, which recently announced a brand new administration, has revealed its actual enrollment numbers and officially requested that the enrollment cap be raised to allow up to 790 students. This month, the school reported it had 780 students enrolled.

“We are working cooperatively with the village of Pinecrest to better align the school’s current operations with certain Pinecrest zoning regulations,” said Frank Steele, Gulliver Prep’s new head of school, in a statement. “We very much appreciate the efforts of the Village administration and Council members to finalize this process.”

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Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, which has exceeded its enrollment limit for 17 years, is asking Pinecrest to allow it to take more students. Sebastián Ballestas sballestas@miamiherald.com

Whether Gulliver will have to cut its student population will be up for a vote by the Pinecrest council Sept. 12. The council postponed voting on the measure last week because the school submitted the required documents detailing the 17-year violation just 24 hours before the meeting.

“It wasn’t just one year, or a few. It was 17 years. I find it difficult to evaluate something and make a fair decision if we just got the information,” said Pinecrest Mayor Joe Corradino during the meeting.

If the council votes to leave the capacity as is, “and the school fails to comply, the case would be sent to a special magistrate for enforcement of the code, which can sum up to hefty fines,” said the village’s manager, Yocelyn Galiano. “Our legal team is currently looking into whether or not retroactive fines can be issued; whether you can issue fines in arrears.”

School administrators would not comment on how the cap would be adjusted or whether a denial would result in students being kicked out.

“I don’t even want to think about that. How do you even begin choosing which students to boot?” said Stephanie Burke, a parent of three students at Gulliver Academy, the prep school’s elementary and middle school arm in Coral Gables. Her children would eventually be affected. “It’s important to me that Gulliver continue to educate all the students we have there. The school is invaluable to our community. I moved to Pinecrest in 2009 from New York City for the schools. I chose the school before I chose which area I would live in. I hope the village can reach a resolution.”

It wasn’t just one year, or a few. It was 17 years.

Pinecrest Mayor Joe Corradino, talking about how long Gulliver had erroneously reported its enrollment

Philip Leitman, who lives near the school, says although Gulliver is a “fine school,” the cap increase should be denied.

“My concern and objection to the application is based on the incremental and negative impact on the neighborhood,” Leitman said in a letter to the city. “Gulliver has increased the scope and size of their facilities over the last number of years and parking has made it difficult to exit our street on repeated occasions.”

Melissa Tapanes, Gulliver’s attorney, reiterated to the Miami Herald that the school has a new administration that has been honest with the village despite the actions of previous school leaders.

Tapanes noted that the school even conducted a traffic study and implemented a new policy that prohibits students from parking off campus on nearby city swales and private property.

Student parking in the neighborhood adjacent to Gulliver has resulted in complaints to the Pinecrest Police Department and the city’s code compliance division, a staff memo says.

“We are eager to resolve this oversight and move forward,” Tapanes said, noting that 450 of Gulliver’s students live in Pinecrest.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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