If Miami-Dade voters agree to a $1.2 billion bond issue to upgrade schools, who should create the oversight group for the massive program?
The School Board grappled with that question at its meeting Wednesday, as members and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho took several steps to prepare for its potential approval.
Those steps include the launch of a new program for small businesses to work with the district, the county’s largest employer, as well as an overhaul of its minority- and women-owned business policies. The board also signed off on a resolution promising an efficient, fair, and transparent program.
Carvalho said they were necessary steps “to ensure that if we happen to be lucky enough that the people support the ballot proposition, that we have a system that is ready to move forward.”
On Nov. 6, residents will vote on the bond referendum, which seeks to renovate crumbling schools and improve classroom technology and network infrastructure. Taxpayers would pay for the improvements with property taxes over 30 years.
As far as oversight, Carvalho technically created a bond-advisory committee before Wednesday’s meeting, with an Oct. 8 memo. He said the group would keep the program on schedule and on budget. If any problems arise, the group would alert the community, board, and third-party watchdogs.
Carvalho’s memo outlined a committee with 23 voting members and six non-voting members. Board members would each tap one voting member and one alternate. Carvalho would tap two members and two alternates. Other groups with representation include: the superintendent’s business advisory council, the Foundation for New Education Initiatives; the Beacon Council; president of the Miami-Dade County Council of PTAs/PTSAs; and the NAACP.
Two board members, Carlos Curbelo and Vice Chairman Lawrence Feldman, said they would prefer the board take the lead in creating an oversight group. “I’m the one being held accountable, I’m the one being elected,” Feldman said. “I want to be there for the takeoff as well as the landing.”
Said Curbelo: “We need to take ownership over this committee.”
There are three ways an advisory committee can be created: by a superintendent’s memo; by the board; or through a rule-making procedure, said School Board Attorney Walter Harvey.
Carvalho offered a compromise: to establish the preliminary structure with his memo and bring the committee back to the board to flesh out the specifics in rule-making, which takes several months. “I think the time is now to move forward,” he said. He later said it was important for outside stakeholders, not the board or district, to appoint half of the members.
Board Member Raquel Regalado proposed that any members submit statements of financial interest, like candidates for office, to show their employer, any entities they hold interest in, and real estate properties. “I think it would provide for transparency,” Regalado said. “At the same time, the community wants this somewhat independent from us.”
School Board member Marta Pérez suggested the committee’s first action should be to tackle the problems from the district’s 1988 bond program and a step-by-step plan to avoid them. She also pushed for the group to have “hard-nosed” skeptics as members.