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Latin Builders Association Academy Lacks Diversity

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Uncle Luke, the man whose booty-shaking madness made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech, gets as nasty as he wants to be for Miami New Times. This week, Luke probes a new charter school started by a special interest group.

The Latin Builders Association is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Miami-Dade County. For more than 30 years, the LBA and its members have lorded over the reckless growth in West Dade that has overcrowded schools, clogged roads, and stretched police and fire services to the limit. In addition to paving over the Everglades, the group has also done an amazing job of making sure all their homeboys get most of the lucrative government construction contracts.

Now the LBA has figured out a way to continue its monopoly by using taxpayer money.

In August, the LBA opened the doors to its own charter high school in west Hialeah. They've started by enrolling 40 kids from that city, Hialeah Gardens, Miami Lakes, and Miramar, says the principal, Gyovania Marante, and in three years the school expects to increase admission to 500 students. Although the LBA Construction and Business Management Academy is private, it is managed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. It's the first time the district has partnered with a special interest group to operate a school.

According to the academy's brochure, all the elective classes are designed to prepare students for careers in the construction industry or to turn them into successful entrepreneurs like LBA founder Sergio Pino. Students will also use iPads and get internships with LBA members, Marante says.

That's great, except that only 2 percent of the student population is African-American and non-Hispanic white, according to school counselor Julia Muñoz. Those numbers are incredible, but they don't surprise me. The school is located in the nation's most Cuban-American city, too far west for kids to commute from heavily black cities such as Opa-locka, North Miami, and North Miami Beach.

Marante insists LBA Academy is not intentionally targeting Hispanic children. "We've reached out to parents in North Miami and North Miami Beach," she says. "We've done mail-outs to every zip code in Miami-Dade and Broward. We target everyone in our recruiting."

It's not enough. I'd certainly like to see Miami-Dade County Public Schools approach me and other entrepreneurs in Miami's entertainment industry to open a charter school to offer kids business careers in music, television, and film. And you better believe that school would be more reflective of Miami-Dade's diversity.

Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.

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