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Manhattanites bring their private school blood sport to Miami

There are simply not enough places for the children of hedge fund managers who relocated since the pandemic

By Joshua Chaffin | May 10, 2023

There are two things that wealthy New Yorkers who have joined the exodus to south Florida desperately need: a bagel that reminds them of home, and an elite private school for their children.

The first may be possible, depending on who you ask. (I’m told Mo’s in Aventura is worth a try.) But schooling is shaping up to be one of the great complications of the south Florida boom. There simply are not enough elite schools to absorb all the children of hedge fund managers and other demanding Manhattanites who have relocated to Miami since the pandemic.

Sought-after schools such as Gulliver Prep have set new records for applications each of the past four years. The soaring price of land makes it costly to expand. Even if they could, many fear that it would diminish their quality. The situation has become so acute that, in September, The Real Deal, a property industry publication, warned that luxury home sales were being delayed because children were stuck on private school waiting lists.

“The school issue is huge,” says Danny Hertzberg, a broker at the Jills Zeder Group. “I have a deal right now that can’t move forward until the buyers figure out what school their kids get into.” The deal is in the $20mn range, and the family will walk if the schools fall through. “Schools are $50,000 a year. They’re going to be $100,000 before you blink,” a rival broker frets.

Like increased traffic and the sudden difficulty of snaring a restaurant reservation, Miami’s elite school crunch is a problem of success. There are new options on the horizon. New York’s Avenues is planning to open a Miami campus next year. North London Collegiate School is also said to be exploring south Florida. (Note to British boarding schools missing the Russian oligarch trade: go to Miami!)

The influx, which is also coming from California and Chicago, may yet benefit everyone. The school regarded among south Florida’s best, Ransom Everglades, was founded in 1903 by a New York lawyer, Paul C Ransom.

In the meantime, there is anxiety, competition and culture clash. The wealth (and sharp elbows) of the newcomers is such that locals will inevitably be squeezed out of institutions they believed were their birthright. That may explain a widely circulating rumour that a hedge fund manager “bought” 10 places at a top school for his employees’ children.

The New Yorkers announced their arrival in February 2022 in the best way they know how: Scott Shleifer, a partner at hedge fund Tiger Global, wrote an $18mn cheque to the Palm Beach Day Academy. It was the largest gift in the school’s 100-year history. “This is just the beginning of many extraordinary things to come for PBDA,” the school’s director of philanthropy, Meghan Monteiro, said in a statement — presumably while turning cartwheels.

Such wealth has a gravitational pull. Christopher Rim is the founder of Command Education, a firm that advises families on college admissions — often beginning in middle school. Two years ago he followed his clients from Manhattan to Miami. “It was a group of parents who said, ‘Chris, come here! Help us. We’ll make it worth your while,’” he recalls.

Many of Rim’s clients feared that even the most selective south Florida schools would not measure up to those they were leaving behind — Horace Mann, Trinity, Dalton and Brearley. Fairly or not, Florida has never stirred thoughts of academic greatness in the public imagination. “Then they get here and the classes at Ransom are more difficult,” he says.

Athletics tends to be a bigger factor at the Florida schools — and not the niche sports that Manhattanites embrace in hopes of sneaking their child into the Ivy League. “No one here’s doing fencing,” Rim says.

The atmosphere also tends to be less cut-throat than Manhattan. That is, college admissions is not the only thing that parents discuss. (They also talk about real estate.) Some newcomers are even widening their search to consider public school, such as the excellent Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest. (Jeff Bezos, class of ’82, Ketanji Brown Jackson, ’88.)

“I don’t think I have a single student who says, ‘I wish I could go back to New York,’” Rim says. If they did, they might find a few empty desks at their old school.

Financial Times

Originally published on Financial Times on May 10, 2023

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