UPDATE: The Palm Beach County School Board's vote on three new Mavericks schools has been postponed. Read more after the jump.
When owners of a for-profit charter school chain go before the Palm Beach County School Board tomorrow night seeking approval for three new high schools, they'll have a celebrity spokesman on their side. Frank Biden, brother of the Amtrak-riding vice president, is president and director of development for Mavericks in Education Florida.
For the past two years, Frank Biden's been flying around the state talking to local school boards, lobbying for the Mavericks High charters. "I'm a salesman. I'm nothing but a P.T. Barnum for these kids," he says.
Biden's not an educator. He served as a legislative director in the Clinton administration and worked for a humanitarian aid group
in Nicaragua before settling in South Florida. He lives in Ocean Ridge and is currently developing a country club community in Costa Rica.
He says he got involved with Mavericks two years ago after meeting restaurant developer Mark Rodberg in a coffee shop. Rodberg founded Mavericks with other partners in 2007 and intended to call the chain Mavericks High, D. Wade's Schools. Mavericks had struck a deal with Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade to be a celebrity spokesman.
But that deal fell apart, and the charter schools initially struggled financially, with the Fort Lauderdale location labeled in "financial emergency" by auditors.
Now Mavericks has eight high schools in Florida, including five in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. The schools offer shorter days designed to appeal to at-risk kids. After one hour of traditional classroom instruction, students spend three hours a day sitting at rows of computers, studying online at their own pace, under the supervision of teachers. This approach is meant to allow students with babies, jobs, and other responsibilities to get a degree instead of dropping out.
"I'm very proud of what we're doing," Biden says. "We're on a mission from God."
The schools are overseen by nonprofit, local boards, but the for-profit Mavericks in Education Florida has a management contract to run daily operations. Not everyone has been thrilled with the results.
On Florida's state report cards, Mavericks schools have scored "incomplete" because not enough students have taken the FCAT while enrolled there. Mavericks officials expect that grade to change as more students enroll. And this year, two former Mavericks teachers filed whistleblower lawsuits against Mavericks High of South Miami-Dade, alleging, among other complaints, that the school is not offering Florida high school diplomas.
Biden disputes the claim, saying that the schools issue Florida diplomas but that not every child graduates. Dale Morgado, attorney for the teachers, declined to comment, saying the two sides are in settlement negotiations.
Charter schools are a booming business in Florida, where more than 400 publicly funded, privately run schools have opened since 1996, and 348 more have applied to open next year.
Palm Beach district officials have recommended that the School Board approve the three new Mavericks schools slated for a vote tomorrow.
UPDATE Nov. 22, 2011: Shortly after New Times broke this story, the vote was postponed. The applications for new Mavericks schools, which were on the School Board's agenda for tonight's meeting as recently as 11:44 a.m. yesterday, have now been crossed off the agenda. No explanation for the change is given on the revised agenda. We will update if more information becomes available.
Orange County's School Board approved a new Mavericks school this month.