The members of the Miami-Dade School Board have built up quite a reserve of public trust, so much that last month voters, by more than 68 percent, approved a $1.2 billion bond issue to renovate schools across the county.
It was a stunning vote of confidence on the part of county residents. So the School Board should avoid even the appearance — or, worse, the reality — of conducting business as usual today and reject a proposal to place two state legislators on the citizens committee charged with ensuring the bond money is spent fairly and wisely. This is not what the public was sold, and not what it agreed to.
Board member Carlos Curbelo proposes to expand the School Bond Advisory Committee by two seats and adding one state representative and one state senator. Mr. Curbelo, who was traveling out of the country earlier this week, said in an email to the Editorial Board that, “In the past . . . the relationship between the School Board and the Legislature has been marked by conflict and bickering. Since my election in 2010, I have made it a priority to transform the relationship between the two entities into a true partnership.”
He said that adding two lawmakers, serving in an ex-officio — or nonvoting — capacity would further forge stronger bonds between the school district and Tallahassee lawmakers, who would gain a greater knowledge of the district’s needs.
That’s a noble sentiment, but any member of the Miami-Dade delegation who is not painfully aware of what schools need shouldn’t be in the Legislature.
Plopping two legislators on the advisory board would break faith with the public, which was willing to raise its own taxes to provide the community’s children a 21st-century education. It would open the door to further misguided revisions that residents, still stung from the failures of a bond issue they approved in the 1980s, never had a say in. And as proposed, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is put in the no-win position of nominating the two lawmakers. Worse, the proposal would expose what was promised to be a transparent and equitable building program to political agendas that do little to serve the common good. The School Bond Advisory Committee was created as a citizens oversight board, a smart move on the part of Mr. Carvalho. Its diverse members have no conflicts of interest with the school system, bring a breadth of experience to the table and care only about ensuring that funds are spent as promised, establishing the order of renovation based on need and practicality, not personal or political agendas.
Now let’s add elected officials to the mix. Even the best intentioned likely will have a greater voice simply because of the inherent authority their positions confer. And, those with less than sterling agendas might attempt to hijack the process, urging funds to be spent where it does them, rather than the community, the most good.
Then there’s this: A lot of money is in play. And charter schools already have had their hands out for a bigger share of public funds. A sympathetic lawmaker on the bond advisory board could nudge funds away from certain deteriorating schools, allowing charters school owned by private interests to step in and provide desperate parents with attractive alternative for their kids. Machiavellian? Sure. But this is Miami.
Voters did the right thing on behalf of Miami-Dade Public Schools. School Board members should do the same: Don’t change the rules, be true to your word.