Miami-Dade taxpayers could see a tiny cut in their school property-tax rate for the coming year.
The School Board gave unanimous approval Wednesday for Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to advertise a $2.7 billion budget plan that protects teachers’ jobs and a slightly lower tax rate: $7.998 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down from this year’s $8.005 per $1,000.
Despite the cut, the average homeowner’s tax bill would increase by $38 because, in general, the county’s property assessments have risen for the first time in years.
In fact, the rosier property values will bring in more revenue than first expected. Carvalho said that would allow an even lower tax rate than first proposed. The extra $12 million would go to the school district’s cash-strapped capital budget. The district has a $2 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, like aging air-conditioners and old roofs. (Find the needs at your school in the database at MiamiHerald.com/schools).
Carvalho pledged he would “very soon” bring recommendations to the board on how to solve the district’s capital crunch.
“It’s the highest priority for me and the board alike. It reflects an incredible need, a crisis-level need for the school infrastructure in Miami-Dade,” Carvalho said.
He said his recommendations would follow several principles, including community support, public and private partnerships and equal distribution of technology across the district.
The tentative $2.7 billion budget protects teachers’ jobs, the classroom, reserves and credit rating. The first budget hearing will be held July 26. Parents, teachers and a maintenance representative spoke in favor of the budget.
“It does everything that we as parents want it to do. It preserves the classroom, the equity in the classroom,” said Joseph Gebara, a parent who served on a budget committee.
Joseph Cortese, with the Dade County School Maintenance Employee Committee, said he supported the budget, though the facilities situation is becoming critical.
“We keep putting Band-Aids on it because we don’t have the funds to do the replacement. We do absolutely no preventative maintenance anymore because we just don’t have the manpower or the finances,” he said
In other business Wednesday, the School Board decided to consider contracting with the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission, led by Joe Centorino, instead of having its own ethics advisory committee, created in 2001. Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman proposed the measure. She said changes in the advisory group prompted the idea. The chairman and the vice chairman of the group have left, and the chief auditor, Jose Montes de Oca, resigned as the liaison for district.
Centorino told the board the partnership could be unique, but there are several issues to explore: how many positions would be needed, what board would oversee the district’s ethics and what ethics code to apply. While the county has its own ethics code, the School Board follows the state code.
Board member Marta Pérez approached Centorino separately about the same idea. Perez said she supported a hybrid ethics watchdog — for example, a separate ethics board for the school district, under the County Commission. She said the county’s ethics commission could alleviate conflicts of interest that occur with the district having its own ethics group in-house.
Several board members said they supported the idea, but had some concerns and wanted more details. “This sort of agreement, if not done properly, could lead us down the road to more outsourcing, which is not in the best interest of our employees,” said Vice Chairman Lawrence Feldman.
The board also recognized Alexandre Lopes, the Carol City special education teacher recently named Florida’s Teacher of the Year. Carvalho gave Lopes, who is originally from Brazil, one of his own prized possessions: a photograph of Pele, signed by the Brazilian soccer legend.
“It was hard to get. The two most significant Brazilians I know: Pele and you. You both are magicians.”