Those who recall the broken promises of the last bond issue voters approved for Miami-Dade Public Schools in 1988 might be tempted to think that a history of neglect or worse will repeat.
But that would ignore what this School Board and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho have accomplished the past four years under the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. And it would ignore the steps the board and the superintendent have taken to ensure transparency, accountability and integrity in bidding $1.2 billion worth of work to update 260 schools slated for repairs under the proposed bond issue. They are focused on staying on schedule and on budget with quality work.
The proposed bond issue enjoys popular support, polls show, precisely because the district has managed to weather the economic storm without hurting classrooms. It has not laid off teachers en masse as some districts (Broward, for instance) have done.
Instead, Miami-Dade’s district showed the door to those principals and teachers who were not up to the task to turn around failing schools. Educators set a high bar and students delivered, with rising scores on national tests, and just last week the district won the prestigious Broad Prize, after making finalist five times, for helping minority children succeed.
On time, under budget
Even in the toughest financial times, the district managed to update and expand one of the county’s oldest schools, Miami Senior High, on time and under budget. And even as the district lost millions of dollars in property tax revenue, exacerbated by draconian budget cuts the Florida Legislature approved two years ago in Gov. Rick Scott’s first year on the job, it has managed to perform miracles in schools that had been failing, improving graduation and test scores.
Lessons taken seriously
The lessons of the last bond issue were taken seriously by Mr. Carvalho, who has focused on creating the 21st Century schools initiative on a list of priorities that clearly names each school that would get new roofs, technology, air conditioning, classrooms or whatever else might be needed for schools that are mostly 40 or 50-plus years old. The 1988 program focused on the growth in the suburbs, building new schools and promising fixes to older ones that either never materialized or were bogged down by shoddy work.
This time, Mr. Carvalho has put together an advisory board of community leaders with expertise in construction, financing and technology to keep tabs on the work and to report back directly to the community several times a year. He has pushed back when some school board members wanted to have some representatives on that advisory board who might also qualify to bid for work. That would not be in the best interest of the taxpayers. We need independent community-minded individuals, not those who would have a financial stake in projects.
He also worked with local minority business leaders to ensure they, too, have a way to compete for these projects so that out-of-state bidders don’t gobble up the work, but only if they have the experience to do so. And he brought in the independent Miami-Dade Inspector General to ensure priorities aren’t switched midstream and the money is spent wisely. There’s transparency throughout so that schools with the greatest needs, like Norland and Hialeah high schools, are first in line.
After our two-month series of editorials on our crumbling schools, readers should know the need for this bond issue is clear. For little more than $5 the first year for a typical home and an average of $27 for every $100,000 of assessed value, over the life of the bonds, Miami-Dade homeowners would set the stage for the county to attract new businesses with topnotch schools.
The initiative sets an ambitious timetable to complete most of the projects within six years, at a time when interest rates are low and construction costs are affordable. Whether Mr. Carvalho is superintendent six years from now or six months from now, the school board has set out a plan that’s transparent and accountable and can be maintained because it will have the community watching over it.