by Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli
Local media, including the Miami Herald, has recently written about the “purchase” of public school seats by affluent communities. I wish to present some counter-facts that should be kept in mind in this discussion. As Mayor of Coral Gables, I’ve seen first-hand how reality can often be quite different from the public perception.
I am a firm believer in the goals of inclusion, racial and ethnic diversity, and social and economic prosperity for all. I also firmly believe that neighborhood schools have a place in our society.
That said, geographic proximity to schools must be a consideration and too often the concept of a quality “neighborhood school” is a relic of the past. Yes, inclusion and diversity are not only good, they are necessary but not to the exclusion of neighborhood children. Three instances come to mind:
- Coral Gables High School is supposedly our high school yet only 14% of its students are from Coral Gables. Yes, many Coral Gables parents do send their children to private schools but this is because of the quality (or lack thereof) provided by the local option. In 2015-2016 it was ranked a C school and in 2016- 2017 the ranking went up onestep to a B school. This is a school which historically was the prideof our city and county because of its superb standards. Moreover, to add insult to injury, the District made the decision years ago to move the International Studies program out of Coral Gables High School and add it to the super magnet Coral Reef Senior High School, a consistently A rated school, 10 miles away from us. Parents want a better education for their kids.
- Unlike Coral Gables High, our parents are waiting in line to send their children to the Henry S. West Laboratory School located in Coral Gables. West Lab has only 18% of its students residing in Coral Gables attending its program. Keep in mind that even though the local neighborhood must bear the impact of the school, the school enrolls kids from all over the county and our kids, neighborhood children, receive no consideration in being able to attend. Diversity and inclusiveness are good but to the exclusion of neighborhood kids?
- The elementary schools closest to our Crafts Section, along our Eastern boundary, are Coral Gables Preparatory Academy and George Washington Carver. The School District mandates that our students skip Coral Gables Preparatory Academy and George Washington Carver and attend a more distant school; Frances S. Tucker. Why this exclusion from our logical geographic option?
There is a serious misunderstanding regarding our Henry S. West Laboratory School proposal. We are not proposing to add children to existing capacity thus depriving any child from a place in the school. We are proposing to add seats to the school; the added seats would be used for neighborhood resident children who otherwise would not be included. This will increase diversity by including the Coral Gables children in their neighborhood school. Is that wrong?
Coral Gables pays one hundred million dollars a year in school taxes, yes one billion dollars every 10 years. We deserve better; we deserve a chance for our children to attend their neighborhood schools. Coral Gables is a diverse community, racially, ethnically and economically, and we do not merit being discriminated against. In addition, at a time when communities, such as our, are struggling to reduce traffic, energy consumption and pollution, precluding neighborhood residents from attending their neighborhood schools seems counterintuitive.