Key Biscayne Paying County $9 Million to Send 1,100 Rich Kids to MAST Academy

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MAST Academy
Maritime and Science Technology (MAST) Academy is one of Miami's best public schools. Each year, the magnet on the Rickenbacker Causeway draws 560 kids from across Dade and turns them into aspiring doctors, scientists, and engineers. Now, however, cash-strapped Miami-Dade County Public Schools appear ready to sell that small-school soul for $9 million.

That's how much the Village of Key Biscayne is offering towards an expansion project in exchange for sending 1,100 of its students to MAST. The plan would triple the size of the school, skirt its lottery system, and cost the county at least another $9 million. Parents, teachers, and former students tell New Times they hate the idea, but the School Board appears ready to pass it tomorrow night anyway.

"I can't believe they are going to turn over the school to the affluent residents of Key Biscayne in return for $9 million," says former student Dan Wehking. "It will really destroy what MAST is all about."

Wehking, an attorney, says he discovered the plan over the weekend on Facebook. "I haven't heard anybody say it's a good idea," he says. "Everyone who hears about this has been upset about it."

Miami-Dade Public Schools says the expansion won't hurt the quality of education on offer at MAST, but it will reduce overcrowding in Key Biscayne schools.

Under the proposal, the high school will be tripled in size. It will continue to draw the same number (560) of students from around Miami-Dade, but because it will be opened to middle school students, the number of Miami-based students per year will likely drop. That means increased competition for the school, which already runs on a lottery system.

At the same time as competition increases for Miami students, no less than 1,100 middle and high school students will be selected from Key Biscayne as part of the agreement.

In return, Key Biscayne will provide $18 million in financing for the school expansion, including a $9 million contribution and another $9 million in loans to the county. It's unclear what will happen if things go over budget.

If approved, the first phase will begin this fall. Up to 10 "portable units" will be dropped on "an open green space area" near the school to house the new students, according to the agenda item.

Parents, teachers, and students have all been blindsided by the news. Most of them didn't learn about the massive changes until late last week, after the official school year had already ended. And those who spoke to New Times all said the plan seemed more like a shotgun wedding between a broke county and a rich island than a sound school strategy.

"This is not an issue of overcrowding," said Michael Bax, the father of a MAST student, in a letter to the School Board that he shared with New Times. "It is a desire to have a local school for a particular prosperous district that has failed through timely planning to deliver one in the past."

Even Joseph Zawodny, a chemistry teacher who helped found MAST back in 1990, says the expansion is a bad idea.

"This is not right," says the 66-year-old, who retired last year but still helps out at the school three times a week. "There are kids that I know that have to travel two hours to get to MAST. Now all of a sudden we are going to become a sort of community school for kids from Key Biscayne, all for the donation of $9 million?"

Zawodny says MAST grew out of something called the Inner City Marine Project, which was designed to expose underprivileged kids to the wonders of oceanography. "Kids from Overtown lived three miles away and didn't even know that there was an ocean," he says. They would arrive asking if it was true that the sea was salty, but leave four years later on the path to becoming scientists.

He worries that the Key Biscayne invasion will turn MAST into an "impersonal factory school." The quality of education might not drop, but the school will lose it's "charisma and character," he says.

"I don't have an axe to grind. I don't have a vendetta," Zawodny insists. "The fact is I put my heart and soul into making that school happen. I saw kids that flourished from nothing. And to see it change like this is not good, it's not fair to the other kids." He argues that if the school has to be expanded, Key Biscayne residents shouldn't get preferential treatment.

The expansion plan will be discussed tomorrow at 5 p.m. at MAST and 7 p.m. at the Key Biscayne Village Council Chambers.

The Miami-Dade School Board will vote on the idea on Wednesday night, but if a statement sent to New Times is any indication, the Faustian bargain is a fait a ccompli:
It is estimated that over 1,000 of the Key Biscayne school-age residents do not currently attend Miami-Dade County public schools. Many parents elect other options for their children because they are not able to enter rigorous public school programs with limited availability of seats, such as MAST Academy. This makes the current proposal an excellent way for our financially challenged school district to better serve the needs of parents and students, expand instructional programs offered at MAST Academy and capture additional FTE revenue. Key Biscayne's willingness to support the project with $18 million worth of financing, including a contribution of $9 million toward construction, shows the Village's commitment to high-quality public education for Key Biscayne residents and highlights its faith in the current administration of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes. Follow this journalist on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.
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34 comments
novamba
novamba

The writer conveniently forgets a couple of facts. KB residents pay over 40M a year to the school board in exchange for the cost of educating our children which is less than 18M.  Also, our k-8 center is in dire need of repair, something the school board is barely putting up any money for, in spite of the gross disbalance of taxes paid vs. received. Finally, ask any MAST graduate over the last years about their athletic programs...oh, wait, there were barely any before we "paid" 9M to send our "rich" kids to school. Since when do wealthier members of the community not have the same rights to a public education? How many kids have to drive/bus over 10 miles daily to their public schools in all of dade county? Imagine we asked kids in Overtown to drive/bus to FIU to attend classes? that would be considered discriminatory under the disparate treatment rule.

bea.rocha
bea.rocha

I am glad that finally Key Biscayne is going to have an option for their high schools students.  I have two daughters one who is going to 12th grade and the other to 11th grade. I can not take them to MAST these year and I am opting for online school before taking them to Coral Gables.  I live in Key Biscayne since I bought my house many years ago. But I am not rich.  I can not pay a private school for my daughters.  Coral Gables IB is an excellent program, but the regular I do not think its a good program in general.  Just because we live in Key Biscayne, and pay lots of taxes does not mean that we are rich.  I just make enough money to pay my taxes and live like any one else.  Why do I have to sell my house and move to Kendall so my daughters can go to a good school?.  I think the people who writes about the rich kids in Key Biscayne do not know what they are talking about.  Key Biscayne pays millions of dollars to help other public schools in Miami.  Before people talk about something that they don't know find out about the people who has to take their children miles away to get a good education, while they are paying millions of dollars in taxes and not receiving an opportunity for their children.

Equal Opportunity?
Equal Opportunity?

I'm sorry, but WHY is Coral Gables the home school for Key Biscayne students? This is preposterous. They have a closer home school option, and I'm NOT talking about MAST Academy. But when Key Biscayne parents didn't want their kids to go to Booker T. Washington, MDCPS drew the boundaries so their precious children could go to Gables instead. Now they are COMPLAINING? What a bunch of crap.

Tyson
Tyson

Mike Miller, you should be embarrassed. This is crap. Shocking that the Miami Herald actually out did the New Times for a change. Earn your paycheck and do some research instead of being the pawn of publicist (and MAST mom) Susan McDowell.  Miller read some actual reporting and research: Fred Grimm, "MAST battle pits haves against have mores."

The True Facts
The True Facts

 You can obtain the property values for Aventura and Golden Beach at the following link http://www.miamidade.gov/pa/library/2012-06-01-estimated-assessment-values.pdf and then do the calculations for the school board millage rates to estimate the total school taxes for each municipality. But, to estimate the public school expenditures for each, you would have to have the operating budgets for each of the schools in each town, estimate maintance capital expenses by looking  at the M-DCPS 5-Year Capital Plan, and then obtain a report from the school district as to the number of children that are attending various other public schools outside of each community to estimate the total expenditures and potential subsidies made by each municipality.  I would suspect that the taxpayers of Key Biscayne are a greater public education donor community than all other Dade County municipalities because there are likely more schools and more public school children in most other communities in Dade County.  

Ric
Ric

so the village gets an estimated $9M more than what Joe was saying, thanks for the info. do you happen to have the numbers for Aventura or Golden Beach?

The True Facts
The True Facts

2011 KB Property Owner’s Public School Education Taxes KB Property Taxable Value    $ 5,522,872,647 Required Local Effort (RLE)          5.693        $ 31,411,713 Basic Discretionary                         .472              2,606,795 Capital Outlay                                1.600             8,836,596 Debt Service  (Voter Approved)      .240              1,325,490 Total M-DCPS School Taxes        8.005         $ 44,210,594   2011 M-DCPS Use of KB Public School Education Taxes K-8 Center Operating Budget 1340 Students $   9,000,000 K-8 Maintenance & Capital Expenses (Est.)        1,000,000 Other KB K-12 Public School Students (Est.) 340 Students@ $10,000                                      3,400,000 Total KB related Public School Expenditures $ 13,400,000 KB taxes used within M-DCPS                       $ 30,810,594

Bookworm85
Bookworm85

What I want to know is where this $46/50 million number is coming from. I've not seen any actual documentation of it

Bookworm85
Bookworm85

Np. I'm not sure when the interview process ended after I entered, but I did want to mention that it was still in place when I entered in '99.

Ric Alvarez
Ric Alvarez

Gables houses 5 IB programs, someone pointed out in a related discussion that the IB programs are superior, year-over-year, to MAST in producing students ready to enter and graduate college. So, which is it?

Ric Alvarez
Ric Alvarez

sorry bookworm, didn't mean to imply that any classes I didn't mention didn't go through the same stringent selection process, just didn't want to speak to something I had no information on.

Ric Alvarez
Ric Alvarez

I think your math might be a little off here. If the number of children that will be added to the enrollment at MAST by this plan is 1100, all of whom currently either attend the K-8 center or Coral Gables, based on the 2008-2009 per student funding numbers the Village has been getting no less than $7.67M per year for education (and that doesn't take into account the remaining enrollment of the K-8 center which is still being funded) - just because it's not being spent on Key Biscayne doesn't mean it didn't come back. Is it your assertion that because the students are going to Coral Gables that somehow the money to educate them is not actually being spent, or that they are not receiving the same education the students at Gable get because they are bussed in, or that they leave their education on the mainland when they cross the causeway and somehow haven't actually received it? Please explain your math and the logic you use to make the assertion that the Village somehow only gets $4M to educate its children. The village is not the only "donor community", as you put it, there are many other municipalities that pay in to the MDSB through property taxes that do not get every penny back because of their demographics.

Bookworm85
Bookworm85

Just thought I'd provide numbers from other magnets for comparison. Coral Reef High School,09-10 (most recent report available): -Our diverse student body consists of 3,007 students, of whom 52 percent are Hispanic, 18 percent are Black, 20 percent are White, and 9 percent are classified as Other. -Students with Disabilities make up 4.8 percent of the student population at Coral Reef Senior High School. -Approximately 36.1 percent of Coral Reef’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. -There are seven ELL (English Language Learners) students comprising approximately 0.2 percent of the student population.   DASH, 09-10 (though the information provided is limited): The total of 478 students in grades 9-12 is comprised of 54% Hispanic, 31% White, 12% Black, and 3% other racial/ethnic groups. The gender ratio is composed of 38% males and 62% females. The diverse socioeconomic status of our students is reflected by the 36% of the students participating in the free or reduced lunch program.   MAST (numbers from the same year): The school’s student population of 550 is diverse: 47% Hispanic, 28% white non-Hispanic, 18% African American, 3% Multiethnic, and 4% Asian. Within that population, thirty percent (165 students) are on free or reduced lunch. MAST does not have a population of English Language Learners. However, approximately twenty-seven students (5%) with Level 1-2 FCAT scores will be enrolled in a reading course in the 2009-2010 school year. The percentage of students who qualify for gifted services is 46% and less than 1% qualify for Students With Disabilities (SWD). Approximately 90% of the school’s students are transported to and from school by a combination of Metrorail and M-DCPS school busses. The school’s students, some of whom board busses at 5:20 a.m., come from points across Miami-Dade County. New World, 09-10: New World School of the Arts (NWSA) serves 484 students; 21% are Economically Disadvantaged Students (EDS) and 0% are Students with Disabilities (SWD). Of these same students 20% are Level 1 and 2 and 80% are Level 3 and above. The ethnic and racial make-up of the student population is 6% Other, 19% Black, 31% White and 44% Hispanic.   Terra High:   TERRA currently has 510 students enrolled. Of those students less than 1% are ELL, 7% are SWD with multiple exceptionalities, and 25% are Gifted. In addition, 21% of students are White, 69% are Hispanic, 0 American Indians, 5% are Blacks, 0 multi-racial, N/A Economically disadvantaged.   Palmetto High (Just for so, decided to pull numbers from a non-magnet school in my area): The ethnic composition of the 3,169 students presently enrolled is 41% White, 18% Black, 34% Hispanic, and 7% Asian/Multiracial. There are 867 gifted students and 375 (12% of the school’s population) Special Education (SPED) students enrolled at MPSHS. There are 29 ESOL English Language Learners (ELL) in Levels 1-IV presently attending MPSHS (.9% of the school’s population). The number of students on free lunch is 472 (15% of the school’s population) and 88 students are on reduced lunch.

Joe
Joe

Okay, but now you're just making stuff up.

joe
joe

Leving asside the $9 million, let's not forget that KB is a donor community meaning that it pays $46 million to MDSB and gets back only $4 million toward the education of its children -- EVERY YEAR.

Sam
Sam

So all things being equal, people from other parts of town deserve it more because Key Rats murder cyclists without a care in the world.  Got it.

joe
joe

Seriously, in 10 years MAST will be far better off than it is now.  This is a great thing for all.  While I understand folks' resistance to change, the qualified kids who get in from the Key will only help to improve the school.  The only argument against it seems to be that for $18 million KB is avoiding the lottery that its residents win at disproportionally low numbers. But that translates only to "we hate you because you are from the Key."  Call it what it is. 

joe
joe

What nation?  Not this one.  Not sending my kids to a school with Gables' murder rate.

Joe
Joe

Shame on you for wanting to deny others--who meet the same qualifications you did--with the same opportunities you had.

Joe
Joe

Silly arguments. Key Biscayne contributes $46 million/year to MDSB and gets $4 million back.  Students will still have to "earn" their place by meeting the same standards you did. (Winning a lottery is not "earning" anything.")   "Wetlands"??  Try sewage treatment plant.  This will bring badly needed fields and sports programs to MAST.  The reality is that this will only increase the value of a MAST education.

Liz Whitby
Liz Whitby

That is what everyone would like.  My home school is also Coral Gables high school - but I choose to send my kids elsewhere.  However I have not strongarmed my way into magnet schools to get them there.  I play by the rules.  As should KB. 

Liz Whitby
Liz Whitby

Thank you for showing what is really happening.  Key Biscayne has made what they consider to be their problem into a problem for MAST Academy.  KB is no different than any other part of the county with over crowded schools and sub-par education options.  I live in Coconut Grove and I send my children to private schools for the same reason KB residents do.  However nobody is going to give me a free pass to a magnet school - 2 of which are within a mile of my home.   MAST has been the best high school in the county year after year.  If proximity is an issue - than perhaps Brickell, North Grove and downtown students should also have access.  Mr. Zawodny is correct in everything he has said.  The foundation and integrity of MAST is being compromised.  Colleges that have been recruiting from this school because of it's unique magnet program will no longer see the uniqueness, the one-on-one research opportunities students have will disappear, the personal attention, and all that a small school can offer will be gone.  MAST was like the liberal arts college of high schools - now assimilating into one of the masses.    MIami-Dade County is losing one of the best - stolen by the Village of Key Biscayne. Everyone with a child who is a potential MAST student should be angered.     I want a bigger backyard.  I think I'm going to knock down my fence and tell my neighbor I'm taking hers.  If Key Biscayne can do that to MAST, why can't I?

Nick Morales
Nick Morales

I'm concerned that the majority of incoming students from Key Biscayne will not embrace their mainland peers. Because the mainlanders will be a minority, and because many KB students attended elementary/middle together and thus will already be well acquainted, this minority will be marginalized to some extent.

Nick Morales
Nick Morales

I would also like to know exactly what a reasonable commute in Miami should be? Seems to me the only reasonable commute I make is to the gas station a few blocks away.

Nick Morales
Nick Morales

But you just can't buy success. And if you want a school, then build one.

Nick Morales
Nick Morales

Many people have to send their children to not-so-great home schools. My home school was Miami High. Unfortunately that is just the nature of public school in this county. You can't just buy a school because you want one; but you can certainly build your own. Honestly, I can't think of any MDCPS home school that is all that stellar; the "good" ones are only applauded for their multiple magnet programs

H Wilson
H Wilson

This is absolutely ridiculous. MAST laid the groundwork for change.This comes down to the fact that The Vilalge and the school board are so far in over thier heads it boggles my mind how they can possibly think this is a good idea. Does anyone actually believe this project will only cost $18 million? HA. Who will fund all of the debt that 1,100 new students will bring: utilities, new teachers, books, supplies,etc. etc..Are we to believe that the learning environment won't be disrupted by all of the construction going on?What about the destruction of the wetlands upon which MAST now sits?What about the fact that the lotto system is now tilted in the Key Biscaybe residents' favor with 2/3 of seats being reserved for them?While you sit there and tell us to grow-up, perhaps it is you who needs to take pause and truly examine the facts. Money does not equate to an automatic right to a MAST education.You could not possibly understand as you are not part of the MAST family, however, save your rhetoric and state exactly how this will benefit the current student body of MAST along with ALL students across the county who you are now taking seats from.Grow up? Where were the grown ups when they were allowing overdevelopment on Key Biscayne, but not planning for their children's future by thinking, "Hmmm. Maybe we should reserve some land for a school."?-Heather Wilson,  MAST 1994 Founding Class

Nick Morales
Nick Morales

The fact is that MAST is a magnet school that offers seats to a select few students every year. That is its purpose: to educate a randomly selected group of gifted students, regardless of their zip code. It is ethically corrupt to purchase and reserve seats in such an institution. I sympathize that Key residents need and deserve a high school, but buying a slice of MAST isn't the best way to achieve that goal. By doing so, you will strip MAST of its original purpose and instead transform it into Key Biscayne High. Is that really what you want? Nicholas Morales MAST Academy 2008 Rice University 2012

H Wilson
H Wilson

Because it was an ambush, and you are absolutely right this will go so far over budget...and who is repaying the $9 million portion of the loan?This is bad on so many levels....

novamba
novamba

@Equal Opportunity? If we sent our kids to Booker T, then you would complain about white kids taking the opportunity away from black kids, or gentrifying the school.  You can't win either way if you are not poor, or white. How many kids attend Booker T. from 10 miles away? regular kids, not magnet programs...

novamba
novamba

@Sam so how many kids in liberty city/overtown murder people weekly?

PPLJ
PPLJ

Liz, if you had a cool $18 million, i think your broke neighbor wouldn't mind you sharing his backyard to keep him from going underwater...

Sam
Sam

Eliteist much?

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