Miami-Dade Schools

Miami-Dade Schools budget includes teacher raises, voter-backed tax hike

School choice options will be expanded, reserves bolstered and bilingual programming and safety spending preserved under the 2014 budget proposed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

The overall $4.3 billion spending plan, which the Miami-Dade School Board will consider during its Wednesday meeting, also protects teachers from layoffs and includes $63 million in state-mandated employee raises. And it includes financing for the first installment of $1.2 billion in voter-approved, long-term capital spending to overhaul aging buildings and pay for technological initiatives.

To pay for it all, taxpayers will see their bills go up about $.043 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value, or $4.30 per $100,000. That’s a little less than the $5 increase advertised by Carvalho and the School Board while successfully stumping in the fall for voters to back the district’s 21st Century Schools bond issue.

The budget “limits that spending to the promise that was made and at the same time protects the employees and programs we collectively value,” Carvalho told the board recently.

Overall, the proposed tax rate of $8.041 reflects a $.052 debt service hike to finance the general obligation bonds, and a $.01 drop in the portion of the tax rate controlled by the School Board. Coupled with rising property values, which increased by an estimated 4 percent this year, the typical homeowner would see an increase of about $30 in taxes paid to the school district.

“It’s a great budget, an amazing thing what you all have done,” Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman told Carvalho’s cabinet, while stressing that the board reduced the portion of the tax rate it controls.

In crafting the budget this year, of which the general fund makes up $2.9 billion, the district had to balance rising income from property taxes and per-student funding with new state earmarks and increasing expenses. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Judith Marte said the district reaped an extra $165 million this year but faced extra $195 million in expenses.

“Compared to prior years, that’s actually pretty good news,” she said.

For instance, while the state provided $117 million extra this year, the Legislature also required an extra $63 million for raises, $38 million in McKay scholarships, $37 million for the Florida Retirement System, and another $8 million to pay for classroom supplies and off-campus virtual courses. Locally driven expenses included recent back-loaded salary increases, rising medical insurance costs and expectations that the district will lose another 5,000 students to charter schools.

Marte said that proposed budget bridges the $28 million shortfall with $10 million in savings through a recent central office reorganization, and by decreases to school expenses. The district’s budget package mentions, for example, $16 million in decreased “basic program” expenses due to students enrolling in charter schools and special programs, a lowering of the ratio of art and music teachers per classroom by one class, and a shift in bilingual services from high schools to elementary schools.

The district says art and music teacher reductions, attributed to students being pulled out of electives for remedial reading and math classes, would be “absorbed and adjusted through retirements.” Marte said the movement in bilingual services to elementary schools wouldn’t decrease pull-out services, but increase them and save money by shifting them to where there’s a greater need.

The big-ticket items in this year’s proposed budget were laid out by the time legislators finished their session in May. That includes the bond initiative, approved in November, and the $63 million for teacher and administrator raises.

The distribution of that money must be agreed upon during ongoing collective bargaining sessions with the United Teachers of Dade. After initial reservations, Carvalho says he now believes the state Legislature has provided enough money to pay for teachers’ $2,500 and $3,500 raises. But he has urged board members not to consider any extra funding toward salary increases.

“We’re looking for significant respect in wages and salaries,” said Fedrick Ingram, president of the teachers union. “This isn’t something we asked for. It’s something we earned.”

Another uncertainty included in the proposed budget is how much in property taxes will actually be handed down to the district from the county tax collector’s office. The district has budgeted $16 million in case actual collections come in below those estimated, which Carvalho said is a significant problem for the massive school system.

To finalize the budget, the School Board must on Wednesday approve the advertising of the proposed tax rate. Once that happens, any proposed increase, however unlikely, would require a re-noticing. The School Board will then meet July 25 for the first of two budget hearings.

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