This week, school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado came out hard against Mami-Dade County's proposal to redevelop Liberty Square, Miami's oldest and largest housing project. Chief among her criticisms was that, in an area surrounded by neighborhood schools that are significantly under-enrolled and undergoing millions in renovations, the developers competing for the job have both proposed to build charter schools in excess of 70,000 square feet.
"Where did we get the idea that what we need there is another school?" she said.
But Regalado was on the receiving end of similar criticisms just a few years ago when she was one of the chief proponents of building a new downtown public school. The idea was pitched despite the fact that Booker T Washington Senior High, an Overtown institution serving downtown families, was only about half-full.
"Booker T is an icon, a beacon in Overtown," School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall told the Miami Times in November 2014. "Our job as a board is to spend our time focused on curriculum. If Booker T. is not good enough for the children in Brickell, why not? I will not have anyone denigrate any school in my district. We don’t need another school; we need to do something to increase enrollment.”
Is Regalado flip-flopping?
On Friday, she said the two scenarios are different.
In downtown, she said private developers and businessmen were prepared to fund the construction of the school, where in Liberty Square the county is subsidizing development with up to $48 million in public funds. Also, she said in downtown, the goal was to recapture students who were already foregoing Booker T Washington in favor of charter and private schools.
"It's different because I was talking about parents who were choosing private school. My point with the school downtown is that the residents I represent in Brickell and the Downtown area were not considering Booker T as an option and were very adamant about that," she said. "Another difference here: what I was proposing with the high school, the district wasn't going to pay for that. I had private sources. I wasn't talking about using county resources or district resources. Quite the opposite. I said it from the beginning: I'm not going to cost the school district a dime."
Developers Atlantic Pacific Communities and Related Urban Development Group have until Feb. 5 to submit their final Liberty Square offers to the county. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez expects to make a recommendation on the project to county commissioners by the end of next month.