The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday finalized its $2.7 billion budget and tax rate for 2012-13 and moved to take a closer look at how district contracts are awarded to businesses owned by women and minorities.
In putting together the financial plan, the district closed a $60 million gap without cutting teachers or elective classes. The plan offers more virtual classes — state law now requires high-schoolers to take at least one — and reorganizes top administration, among other savings.
“This budget serves the taxpayers of our community well,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said, adding after the board’s unanimous vote: “It’s a best-in-class budget.”
Residents will see a marginally lower tax rate: $7.998 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down from $8.005 per $1,000.
But their tax bills will still go up by $38 because the county has seen a rise in assessed property values.
In other business, the board authorized Carvalho to review the costs and benefits of studying any disparity in contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses. Carvalho said that the feasibility study is the first step toward any policy changes to ensure the business opportunity is “fair and equitable to all” by the time the district gets the money it needs for capital improvements.
He said certain procurement set-asides require a disparity study.
Carvalho has proposed a $1.2 billion bond referendum to fix dilapidated school buildings and improve technology across the district. Voters will decide in November.
Some representatives of black businesses expressed concerns to the board that a study would take too long to help them benefit from the bond issue, if it passes.
“We’re still waiting on a program that’s going to give us some opportunity,” said Elsie Hamler, a member of the district’s Minority/Women’s Business Enterprise advisory committee. “Why should we let our taxes go up and let everybody else have the opportunity for all those tax dollars?”
Carvalho acknowledged historical inequities with district contracts. A study of disparities hasn’t been done in more than 10 years and that is the first step toward change.
“We are going to fix this,” he said. “We need the support of the community to keep an ever so watchful eye.”
The board also decided to work on a new watchdog model for ethics.
Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman had previously proposed working with the county’s Commission on Ethics and Public Trust instead of its own ethics advisory committee. Seats are vacant, and the chief auditor resigned as liaison.
But that switch would require a change in state law. So the board decided to look at other models and tapped the board attorney, Walter Harvey, to serve as an interim liaison. “We need to get that up and running again,” Vice Chairman Larry Feldman said.
The board also discussed state education rules for English-language learners, whose test scores will now count toward school grades after just one year of language instruction. Carvalho said that talks are still going on with the U.S. Department of Education, Congressional representatives and national groups to challenge the change. State administrators have said the rule change was necessary to get a waiver from some consequences of the No Child Left Behind law.
Carvalho said that the process is nearing the “last resort:” legal action: “We are getting to that point.”