Meanwhile, black voters were promised 22 new schools for their neighborhoods. But in five years, they saw only seven built, five projects moved to the end of the schedule and others set to open late, like Van E. Blanton Elementary in North Dade. Some complained that suburban communities with political clout, like the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations, got special treatment.
Ten years later, in 2003, the situation had worsened. A Miami Herald investigation revealed a crisis: tens of millions of dollars wasted, building projects delayed, poor-performing builders repeatedly hired, schools with construction defects that opened despite warnings from inspectors, and overwhelmed maintenance crews. More than 160 Miami-Dade schools had leaky roofs, cracked walls and broken fire alarms.
In 2004, independent auditors blasted the facilities department for gross waste and massive mismanagement, including: capital funds rolled over year-to-year and used for non-capital expenses; awarding contracts to small local contractors who were not equipped for the work; and tens of millions in waste.
Norland case study
For some, the previous bond still stirs strong feelings, especially in the black community, where even Carvalho recognizes there were broken promises.
Case in point: Miami Norland Senior High built in 1958 in Miami Gardens. It was on the original list for a major renovation, addition or remodeling. It ended up with a new gym, in 2006, nearly 20 years after the bond was approved. The gym now has cracks in the sheetrock. Teachers have complained about mold. Milton Parris, a Miami-Dade firefighter and president of Norland’s alumni association, said he doesn’t know why his alma mater was passed over.
“I am sure most of these schools have been promised things they never received. A lot of money for these schools was taken and put to other schools,” he said.
On a recent tour, Principal Luis Solano showed reporters, Carvalho, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other politicians the school’s glaring defects: rust on ceiling tiles, an old fuse box, the ailing AC in the auditorium, the cafeteria that can serve only 223 students, out of some 1,700, at a time. No one could explain why Norland did not get the renovation promised in the last bond issue. The tour’s last stop contrasted the old with the new: the tech-savvy iPrep magnet installed this year in Norland’s old gym, at a cost of $286,000 from the district’s capital budget. It is wireless and equipped for modern technology.
Several alumni leaders insist on a documented timeline and cost estimates for projects this time.
“We’ve learned our lesson,” said Larry Williams, alumni president for Miami Northwestern High.
Times have changed since 1988. Construction costs are lower. Schools aren’t as crowded, with enrollment on the decline.
But funding from the state for construction and repairs has dried up. Buildings have deteriorated. Most schools lack wiring and other infrastructure for technology.
Carvalho vows equity, with the schools with the biggest need first in line. Schools like Norland and Hialeah High.
“I’ve looked at the data, 23 years prior to this administration, the equity to certain segments of this community was not there,” he said. “And that’s something that we need to address moving forward.”