By: Sharon Aron Baron
Residents in Tamarac believe in education and don’t have a problem with schools, but they do have a problem where the proposed 1,200 student charter school will be located and how it will affect our under-enrolled public schools.
The location for the Doral Academy Preparatory School is slated for the Sports Complex which is home to the skate park, basketball, tennis and other recreational activities, and even though area schools are under-enrolled, no study has ever been done to find out if another school was actually needed in the community.
After discovering that the Doral Academy Preparatory School was being proposed, residents, especially those from Kings Point have had no updates from the City. Remembering that Tamarac “Commits to Transparency” I knew that I would have no problem finding answers.
Nothing’s going on with it.
When I emailed City Spokesperson Elise Boston, I was told there was “nothing yet to report” which basically means there was “nothing for us to report to you”.
She elaborated a bit more and told me it was in the “discussion” stage which basically tells me that something’s being discussed with someone. Right?
“It’s a multidisciplinary discussion with the goal of reaching a mutually beneficial conclusion.”
It seems as though Boston was doing her job well at warding off any annoying questions.
Figuring the “City of Transparency” was coming up a little short on their motto, I did a public records request to find out what actually was going on.
Here’s the story: After several meetings including one attended by hundreds of angry residents back in January, nothing’s going on with the charter school, that is, nothing that should concern pesky people like me who asks too many questions. For instance, there is a feasibility study, a lease to negotiate, a traffic study and plenty of emails from the City Manager to the Commission and staff.
But there’s another reason they don’t want me or the Sun Sentinel knowing anything: They don’t want to rattle those pesky folks at Kings Point. You see, the City Manager was on the defensive back on December 4, because Tamarac Talk wrote yet another article about the charter school, City is Moving Forward with a New Charter High School and No One Cares
“As expected, Sharon Baron launched her offensive this afternoon in typical fashion and so in the event you get any calls, emails, questions, etc… the attached information will prove to be useful.” And he attached an informational sheet with all of the great things about the school.
I guess I should wear my big mouth with a badge of honor here because I know I personally annoy everyone on the commission and possibly in City hall. As Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Sadly, they used to love me when I was working to recall a former commissioner who was a thorn in their side. How soon they forget.
Who’s really pushing for this charter school?
No one wants to tell you this, but I will. There is no one else who is pushing for this more than City Manager Michael Cernech, winner of the Palladium Award and Assistant City Manager Diane Phillips. Cernech is the one who brought the idea up about a charter school – off agenda during the January 21, 2014 workshop as agenda item number seven, which wasn’t even on the agenda, nor was it ever amended to include this item.
Phillips doesn’t show any impartiality either stating in an email on December 19, 2014 “I continue to believe this is a wonderful opportunity for our children and the community at large.”
If I’m not mistaken, our Assistant City Manager doesn’t event live in the City, so I’m not sure whose children she’s referring to here.
The Mayor and City Commissioners know more than they are saying
Mayor Harry Dressler told the audience at Kings Point on January 21, 2015 that he has no knowledge of plans for a charter school, nor holds a position on it. Therefore any questions regarding it would be premature.
But this isn’t quite true because on December 4, 2014 the City Manager was keeping the Mayor as well as the rest of the commission in the loop about the new Charter School:
“As I discussed with each of you this week we are working with Doral Academy on doing some community outreach. A meeting was held in King’s Point for some of the leaders in that community. We are working on getting Doral Academy together with some of the coaches in our sports leagues to alleviate fears about disruptions at the sports complex if this project goes forward. Now that I have spoken with each of you I wanted to distribute some general information about Doral. You can see from the content of both pieces just what a great program Doral offers.”
So Dressler did have knowledge of the Charter school in advance of this meeting. However, if only residents had asked him questions the next day he would have had even more to share with the Kings Point residents after he received this memo Cernech dated January 22:
“Earlier this afternoon I received a document from Doral which is the basis for a ground lease and moving the project forward. It is a 60 page document that I have not had a chance to review, but will do so over the weekend. This is the document which either gets us to you with a recommendation or ends the discussion due to not being able to successfully negotiate an acceptable deal with Academica/Doral. Also, I have instructed staff to have two studies done by outside consultants. The first is a traffic study for the Sports Complex targeting the use of the property as an 1800 student station middle/high school. This will provide us with specifics regarding traffic, parking and other vehicular issues related to the school, the site, and the surrounding roadways. The second is a Charter School feasibility study. This study will answer a lot of the questions raised about the need for more academic choices, the existing demand for better educational choices and the appropriateness of what we are reviewing and recommending if we reach that point. Next week I’m going to ask each of you to tour Doral Academy at your convenience if my review of the proposed agreement leads me to believe we might be able to reach an agreement with Academica/Doral based on the structure of the proposal they have provided.”
Mayor Harry Dressler replied:
“The feasibility study is very important metric for me. The percentage of Tamarac kids plus staff kids is very important. Why would we go to all the trouble and grief to provide a public school for non-Tamarac kids ? Enjoy the weekend!!!”
City Manager update on February 14 to the mayor:
“Doral Academy – We received a lease agreement from Doral which has consumed a lot of time over the last 10 days. We are meeting with them next week in an attempt to understand and clarify a number of issues related to what it is we are all trying to accomplish. Our progress has been slow at this time, however, we have had a number of questions answered in ways which make me think we might get a deal in front of you for your consideration. Doral is preparing to do student outreach, but has held off at our request until we have a higher comfort level that a deal is imminent.”
The mayor knows exactly what is going on and is copied on updates from the City Manager. This isn’t going to be a vote that he decides the day it hits the agenda.
The City Wants High School like Coral Springs but….not like Coral Springs
City Manager Michael Cernech writes that he had lunch with City manager Erdal Dönmez of Coral Springs and discussed Charter Schools. The City of Coral Springs has an A-Rated Charter School and wants to move theirs into a City Park which will also be leased from the school. What makes their school so different from ours is that the City of Coral Springs holds the Charter and does a lot of work to oversee it, unlike the Tamarac Commission which will essentially be hands-off once it’s built.
Coral Springs Charter School doesn’t report to the school board, they report to the City Commission and they work tirelessly with them on their budget during quarterly meetings. Day-to-day operations of the school are contracted out with Charter Schools USA.
Tamarac wants no part in a municipal run school or overseeing a school like Pembroke Pines Charter School. Even though JP Taravella is our high school, the commission chooses not to make educational or time investments to the school.
Our City Manager writes that he discussed problems plaguing Taravella, but has he ever offered solutions?
He will not appoint an Educational Advisory Board which could become the City liaison to get involved and help our hometown school. After all, many of our children attend JP Taravella.
Our City doesn’t even feel it’s important enough to put a School Resource officer in every school – unlike Coral Springs.
Would our own City Manager enroll his own children in Doral Academy once it’s built?
Not a chance.
His children attend Broward County Public Schools in his hometown of Parkland.
So why is our City suddenly in the school business when they know, or care so little about the public schools that we have now? Is it because JP Tavavella is located in Coral Springs and not in Tamarac? School boundaries are not divided along city lines. Coral Springs has students attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School which is located in Parkland, yet the City Commission still treat it like one of their own City schools – because it is. If it is in their boundaries, then it gets their attention and their commissioners attend their sporting events, plays, and even the 25th Anniversary event that was just held in March.
Does anyone actually believe that that because Doral has the word “preparatory” in the name that it’s a college prep school? Haven’t they figured out that this is a marketing tactic? All public high schools are prepping children for college and offer college advanced placement (AP) courses, therefore, they are “prep” schools.
There is no guarantee that Tamarac kids would get first shot at seats
Only in municipal-run charter schools like Pembroke Pines and Coral Springs Charter can they first pull students from their own Cities before allowing others to enroll. Doral would not get those same benefits. Unless, of course if the Broward County Public School Board agrees. Knowing how Broward Schools feels about charter schools in general, I don’t see them bending any rules for a school that is taking more students away from nearby under-enrolled schools.
Here are the rules:
A charter school may give enrollment preference to the following student populations:
1. Students who are siblings of a student enrolled in the charter school.
2. Students who are the children of a member of the governing board of the charter school.
3. Students who are the children of an employee of the charter school.
4. Students who are the children of:
a. An employee of the business partner of a charter school-in-the-workplace established under paragraph (15)(b) or a resident of the municipality in which such charter school is located; or
b. A resident of a municipality that operates a charter school-in-a-municipality pursuant to paragraph (15)(c).
5. Students who have successfully completed a voluntary prekindergarten education program under ss. 1002.51–1002.79 provided by the charter school or the charter school’s governing board during the previous year.
6. Students who are the children of an active duty member of any branch of the United States Armed Forces.
Nowhere will they give preference to those that live in Tamarac. Welcome commuters from Sunrise, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes and Coral Springs!
And Finally – They have prepared answers in case you call about the school
Back in December the City Manager’s office went into full PR mode to make sure that anyone that called the City would have all the “right” answers about the charter school. They prepped all of the departments to report everyone that called:
“Please review the email below along with the attached FAQs relative to the Charter School. Please keep a log of callers (name, phone number, address, reason for call) and forward that list to me by close of business each Friday. If you do not receive any calls, please send me an e-mail advising me of that as well. Thank you.”
What will the City do with all of those names that they are taking down as documentation. Sure they are public records, but will this list go to the commission before a vote is taken? Are they returning their calls? Or maybe they will be some of the lucky ones that will be invited on the tour of the school set to take place any day.