Leaky roofs, old air-conditioning units and peeling paint plague many Miami-Dade schools.
Some newer buildings have state-of-the-art technology; others have outdated electrical systems.
To solve the twin problem – a looming capital crisis and growing technology gap – Superintendent Alberto Carvalho will ask the School Board this week to start the process for a $1.2 billion bond referendum.
It would be the first step to put the question before voters in November.
“We know the need. The need is now. The solution is ours. The solution is the community,” Carvalho said.
The last time Miami-Dade County Public Schools took this step was in 1988, when voters approved $980 million for capital improvements. Those bonds, issued over the course of several years, built schools like Miami Northwestern in Liberty City.
This time, schools like Miami Norland Senior High, American Senior High and Milam K-8 Center could get upgrades.
And in a way, Carvalho said, the children of those who benefitted from the previous referendum would benefit from this investment. The bond program aims to upgrade schools, renovate older ones, replace parts or entire campuses where it makes financial sense and build limited new construction where enrollment is expected to rise – and provide equitable access to technology and digital resources to all students.
“There would be something every school would benefit from,” Carvalho said. “It shouldn’t be you go to school in a decent building or you have access to technology. You should be able to do both.”
Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest school district, is broke in terms of capital dollars and has about $2 billion in unmet capital needs and deferred maintenance at its nearly 400 schools and facilities. How willing recession-weary voters are to pay for that with general obligation bonds remains to be seen, but concern about the schools’ infrastructure has intensified over the last year among educators, board members and parents.
Half of the school buildings are more than 40 years old, and one-third are at least 50 years old. With leaky pipes and stinky hallways, Miami Norland has waited for years for a new building.
Broward County Public Schools faces a similar situation, with about $2 billion in unmet facility needs, and most of the capital budget going to debt service.
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie recently told the state Board of Education that funding for capital needs was among the district’s top challenges. Runcie told The Miami Herald the district would eventually have to take the case to voters in some way, like a multi-year special tax, in the next couple of years.
“It’s a numbers game, and we don’t have the money right now,” Runcie said. “Ultimately, the public is going to have to have a really good understanding and see that the success of the public schools affects the overall fate and vitality of their community.”
Over the last year, the Miami-Dade School Board has grown more concerned about the situation with the school infrastructure and technology.
During budget discussions, board members stressed the need to find a long-term solution. Carvalho said he’d bring a solution “very soon” and that it would build on several principles, including community support, partnership with the private sector and minimizing the burden on taxpayers.