School expansion plan causes controversy

Superintendent comes up with alternative MAST Academy plan

MIAMI - Wednesday the Miami-Dade School Board voted to move ahead with a proposal to add more students to MAST Academy on Virginia Key beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The final vote though is yet to come.

The controversial plan calls for initially adding 8th grade to the 9th through 12th grade nationally ranked magnet school campus. That would also expand the school's 560 member student body by 25 percent for the next school term. The additional qualifying students would be chosen through a lottery system district wide, including Key Biscayne, which neighbors MAST Academy.

Then in subsequent school years, more students and grades would be added in increments until around 1,200 total students make up the MAST student body.

The Village of Key Biscayne, which voted Tuesday night to pickup the $18 million tab for the expansion, hopes to also reduce overcrowding at its K-8 school if some of its students enroll at MAST.

Right now, Key Biscayne does not have a high school. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Cavalho said Key Biscayne is the only municipality in the district whose high school students have to travel the farthest to attend a high school. Most go to Coral Gables High. But by 2015 when the district plans to have completed construction on additional classrooms and other facilities at MAST, the goal is to give more students living on Key Biscayne a closer option for high school while increasing diversity and adding to the curricula at MAST.

Many MAST students and parents spoke out at Wednesday's school board meeting against the proposal, saying it would diminish the high academic standards held at MAST. Others complained that the whole proposition was being rushed without consideration of other options.

Now the proposal will now go up for more review by MAST and Key Biscayne administrators, officials, parents and the Miami-Dade school board, which could mean further amendments to the plan before a final school board vote expected in July.

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