Miami-Dade Schools

Miami-Dade School Board to take up tentative budget Wednesday


The tentative 2012-13 budget closes a $67 million gap for next school year, but it does not solve the district’s looming capital crisis.

Proposed budget moves

The district must close a $67 million budget gap for its overall $2.7 billion financial plan. Here are some of the moves and expected savings:

$18 million: Trim maintenance expenses. This includes previous savings in supplies and gas and changes for midlevel managers. Carvalho has said workers with tool belts will not be impacted.

$12.7 million: Downsize non-school departments by eliminating positions and reducing overtime.

$9 million: Leverage a state mandate for high-schoolers to take class online before graduation and increase basic class size in senior high schools.

$2.9 million: Speed up internal investigations to shorten the time employees spend away from their job.

$7.12 million: Close out 179 paraprofessional positions in Exceptional Education programs. Positions are empty from retirement or previous cuts.

Miami-Dade schools chief Alberto Carvalho has proposed a tentative $2.7 billion budget that protects full-time teachers, relies on more virtual classes, boosts reserves and downsizes non-classroom departments.

Carvalho has pitched a marginally lower tax rate — a 16-cent cut for the average taxpayer. A typical homeowner, however, would see their bill increase by about $42 because of an increase in property values.

The Miami-Dade School Board will consider the proposed budget and tax rate at its meeting Wednesday. Afterward, the board will advertise a tentative tax rate and hold the first of two budget hearings on July 26. Once the preliminary tax rate is advertised, the board can adopt a lower rate but not a higher one.

Also key to the budget: a $14.8 million reorganization that will condense regional offices from four to three and aims to sharpen the focus of all departments away from compliance to the district’s core mission.

“It’s not about folks downtown monitoring what principals are doing, what teachers are doing. It’s more about supporting teaching and learning in schools,” Carvalho told board members recently.

As part of that reorganization, Carvalho’s budget downsizes “non-school” departments by $12.7 million. “Non-school” departments include areas like transportation, finance, communications and facilities.

In assembling the new budget, the district administrators are hamstrung in how to solve a much bigger problem: how to pay for nearly $2 billion in deferred maintenance and capital upgrades at schools. The district has little capital to pay for maintenance, except for critical safety measures, because the bulk of its capital dollars are paying off old debt. Worsening the problem, the state has not given traditional public schools any public capital dollars for two years.

(Find the maintenance needs at your school in the database at MiamiHerald. com/Schools.)

The tentative budget moves several key items — like property insurance — from the capital budget to the general fund, because the capital fund can’t support them.

Maintenance expenses are slated to be trimmed $18 million to $120 million. That’s down from $173 million in 2009-10. Judith Marte, the district’s chief budget officer, said almost half of the reduction reflects savings from last year in supplies and gas, but will involve changes for midlevel managers.

Carvalho told the School Board at its July retreat that he’s not interested in cutting workers who wear tool belts. Rather, changing work rules, like changes in shifts, will create savings, said Richard Hinds, the district’s chief financial officer. Hinds said unless there are additional funds for capital identified, the capital program will continue to be downsized.

“We have adequate money to keep doing critical maintenance on buildings,” Hinds said. “There needs to be a long-term solution.”

Carvalho plans to bring a long-term solution to the School Board by the end of the year.

Chuck Burdeen, the executive director for the Dade County School Administrators’ Association, said the situation with deferred maintenance needs to be addressed.

“We’re so low on maintenance personnel and funding and they continue weakening the infrastructure,” he said. “You can’t weaken the infrastructure without jeopardizing people — students, teachers and other employees.”

The good news for the district is that property values have shown an uptick for the first time since 2008-09, and the state and federal revenues have increased.

But there’s still a budget gap of $67 million. Property values have not climbed back to their peak pre-recession value, even though the Miami-Dade property appraiser came up with a higher value for the county’s tax rolls — an extra $20 billion — than the state’s estimate, making the budget gap smaller than first expected.

What’s more, much of the increased state and federal revenue will not fund district programs. Rather, it will replace other revenues, like federal jobs money, that have been spent or it will flow to other programs. About an extra $33 million will flow to charter schools, whose enrollment continues to rise. Another $33.5 million must support the controversial McKay Scholarships, which give money to students with disabilities to attend eligible private schools.

The district’s budget and financial directors have proposed setting aside $27 million in a new reserve to guard against any change in the final appraised property value and against any shortfall in collecting the taxes. (Millions in taxes from 2010 are still tied up in the appeals process.)

“That planning is critical. Once the school year starts, changes to the budget have tremendous impact to our schools,” Marte said. “Once our kids are in school, the best thing we can do is minimize change.”

United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz said she supports the tentative budget because it “maintains our priority in the classroom and that’s where it should be.”

“We’re happy that property values in Miami-Dade are rebounding. It helps us with the types of programs that our children deserve. Now our school system will recover,” she said.

In addition, Carvalho plans to create a new enterprise division to bring in new revenue for the district, for example royalties from its sports brands.

Carvalho said he is hunting to hire someone who is business savvy to lead the enterprise division. The Foundation for New Education Initiatives will likely provide initial funding. Carvalho estimates the enterprise division could bring in $4 million in the first year.

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