Years of school construction delays. Hundreds of millions in cost overruns. Broken promises. Shoddy construction.
Those were the headlines from the last time Miami-Dade voters agreed to pay extra property taxes to fund school construction and renovation.
When the measure passed in 1988, the $980 million bond was the largest ever in the country for school construction. It was meant to relieve crowded classrooms in the boom times of real-estate development and growth.
That program will end in 2017. Now, the Miami-Dade school system wants to launch a new one to fix aging buildings and modernize technology. Schools like Hialeah Senior High have cracks in the walls. Miami Norland Senior High has outdated electrical panels. Shenandoah Elementary needs plumbing.
Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to approve a $1.2 billion bond issue that would be repaid over 30 years with an additional property tax..
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is staking his legacy on a promise: No waste. No delay. No communities left out.
“We’re relying on four years of unparalleled performance, both on the financial side as well as the academic side,” he said. “The best predictor of future success is past performance.”
In the end, the previous bond did get new schools built, including Barbara Goleman Senior High in Miami Lakes, Turner Tech in North Miami-Dade and Coral Reef Senior High in Southwest Miami-Dade, and others got renovated. The Miami Herald requested an analysis of the results of the 1988 bond issue, including a final work list and how the money was spent. School district spokesman John Schuster said a report is expected to be released in the days ahead.
Many community leaders have pledged support for the new bond, despite the mistakes of the past.
In the 1980s, Miami-Dade County was booming, and schools were crowded, with 10,000 new students or more enrolling every year. Then-Superintendent Joe Fernandez campaigned for the bond. It narrowly passed, winning support from black, white and Jewish voters, but Hispanic voters wary of taxes largely rejected it.
Quickly, the massive program flagged under changing leadership. A young deputy, Octavio Visiedo, became superintendent in 1990 and took over the program. An out-of-town joint venture, CRSS/WRJ, had been hired to manage the construction, with school district employees forming a second management group. But projects weren’t getting done, and Visiedo fired the firm.
“It was just a disaster,” he said. “It was a very rough-and-tumble beginning.”
G. Holmes Braddock, who served on the School Board for more than 30 years, blamed the outside management firm: “Trying to go outside to make everybody feel better was probably the worst thing we did.”
Visiedo said staff created a new tracking system, giving the first snapshot of projects and cost.
While the district got organized, projects fell more behind.
In 1993, five years after the bond issue passed, The Miami Herald detailed a host of problems: changing priorities, population shifts, mismanagement and Hurricane Andrew, which caused unanticipated damage.
According to the report, fewer than half of the 49 promised new schools were completed and only 31 of the 250 schools pegged for renovations and additions were complete.
Some favored projects moved faster, like MAST Academy near Key Biscayne, which was built two years early and cost an extra $8.6 million.