The Miami-Dade School Board took the first step Wednesday toward putting a $1.2 billion bond referendum before voters as a way to shore up the district’s crumbling schools and upgrade their technology.
During the three-hour debate, the superintendent’s proposal was praised by parents, teachers union leaders, architects, builders and business professionals. It also met its first opposition: politicians wary of any possible tax increase and black community members who said the district’s last bond referendum, in the 1980s, didn’t fully deliver on its promise to help inner-city schools.
“Nothing changes the fact that the need is here. The need is dire,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
He pledged to beef up the audit process to provide constant oversight and guard against corruption, create an advisory committee to guarantee community input and revise the procurement process so the borrowed money will go to local vendors.
The bond proposal got its first OK from the School Board with a 7-2 vote.
Next, the district will first ask the Florida Department of Education for permission to issue up to $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds — essentially a loan that would be paid back with future property tax revenue. The district will also submit a list of schools that need to be upgraded, repaired or even entirely replaced. If the DOE signs off on the proposal and the list, the School Board would take up the bond proposal again and vote on the ballot language. It could be on the ballot as early as November.
The district has about $2 billion in deferred maintenance and capital needs at schools. More than half of its schools are more than 40 years old. Some teachers complain of mold and leaky windows.
The bond idea was endorsed by the United Teachers of Dade and the Miami-Dade County Council of PTA/PTSAs.
Michael Kerwin, a local architect and parent, said the condition of school buildings sends a message to students.
“Surroundings that we create for ourselves are critical. They are just as critical as the teaching that takes place in schools,” Kerwin said. He asked the board to remember, “What you do today is going to have a great benefit on the self-esteem and the performance of students for the future.”
Some residents of inner-city communities oppose a bond issue.
“From the urban core right now, we can’t buy into this proposal,” said Larry Williams of the Miami Northwestern Senior High School alumni association. “Unfortunately, profiteers that come up here and say they’re for children, we don’t see them in our community on a consistent basis.”
Board members Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Carlos Curbelo cast the opposing votes.
Curbelo said he thought more time was needed to explore the issue and explain the problem to residents. Plus, he wants the district to move away from property-based taxes.
Diaz de la Portilla said other options should have been explored, like consolidating under-enrolled schools, and he slammed the idea of any potential tax increase.
“I don’t believe that more debt is best for our children, ever,” he said.