Dear School Board Members:
It is with a sad heart that I write this letter, for it seems to me that since the very inception of the Marco Island Academy (“MIA”) High School, you have been fighting it every step of the way and for the life of me, I cannot understand why. Maybe I am mistaken, but here is what I have observed over the years:
- At some point, you must have been pro-charter schools and pro-Marco Island schools because you provided the land and the funds necessary to build the Marco Island Charter Middle School. I have to assume that this middle school was in direct competition with the Manatee Middle School, yet that did not seem to be an issue for you at the time.
- Upon the application for the MIA High School, you fought it as hard as you possibly could and looked at it as a direct threat to Lely High School. You provided nothing to help get it established and went even further to make the process as difficult as possible. I know this first hand because I attended every school board meeting during this time to show my support of a Marco Island high school. You even went so far as to deny it its rightful home on the Tract K property you currently own on Marco Island (land designated for a high school by the original developer of Marco Island and entrusted to you for the purpose of building a school on it!). To spite the Marco Island citizens who desired their own high school (so that their children would not have to travel at minimum 16 miles each way), you sided with angry neighbors of Tract K who hid behind the facade of environmental eagle concerns. You made no attempt to rectify the situation. You made no attempt to provide a win/win situation. You sided with the opposition (who spitefully did not want to see a school in their back yard) only because it was convenient for you and because it further fostered your agenda of stifling the Marco Island Academy Charter High School.
- Money is not everything, but it is important. We are not a wealthy family; we work extremely hard for what we have, oftentimes working more than one job. We choose to live on Marco Island and for that choice we are burdened with higher taxes, but because we feel this area is the best choice for our children, we accept the higher cost of living. Somehow, I feel you perceive Marco Island as only affluent, wealthy residents, but that is not the case. Part of the approximately $51 million that comes from Marco Island to fund your annual budget comes from hard working busboys, dishwashers, servers, hair dressers, landscapers, first responders, etc. These are all good families who work extremely hard and feel like we have paid more than our fair share. Maybe you can take a modest 10% from that $51 million over the course of the next 2 years and help fund a permanent structure for our children—who, by the way, should also be considered your children—the children of the Collier County school system.
- The Marco Island Academy is rated as one of the best schools in the country! Instead of fighting it every step of the way, maybe you should study it, maybe even model it. Maybe you should implore some of their strategies in some of your other Collier County schools. What this group has accomplished is nothing short of amazing! For starters, the administration and students work out of trailers—that’s right, we still have a school in Collier County in trailers even though we have a near $1 billion school board budget! That is a blemish on your soul, not mine! In addition, the Marco Island Academy High School has no auditorium, no gym, no lunchroom, and they function with the bare minimum of necessities. Yet, in spite of all this, they are ranked in the top 2% of the nation for most challenging high schools according to The Washington Post and in addition they were the only school last year in the district with a 100% graduation rate!
In closing, it is so evident that this school has been a thorn in your side since day 1 and, once again, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why? It is time for you to step up and treat all the children of Collier County fairly. Help make the Marco Island Academy a beacon of admiration. Help make it one of your flagship schools where the public school system and the charter school system come together to be an example of the future of education in America. Please take just a small portion of your extremely large school board budget and help the children in the geographic area including Goodland, Isles of Capri, East Naples and Marco Island by helping to provide a permanent, safe structure. Since you already took the rightful home of a Marco Island High School away (Tract K), the least you can do is help fund a non-trailer, permanent structure elsewhere. You have a powerful choice before you to either fulfill your mandate of helping to make all of the Collier County schools some of the best in this country, or you can continue on your same path. However, come election time, your choices will not be forgotten! Far more important than my vote is the fact that you will have to live with your choices for the rest of your life, so I implore you to make the right choice and do the right thing!
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter and thank you for your service to our county.
Darrin Palumbo *
*Extremely proud father of a 4.2 GPA MIA student and of a MICMS 8th grader who will be attending MIA next year!