Miami-Dade school district may ease impact of library closings

Hoping to soften the blow of expected library closings due to county budget cuts, the Miami-Dade School Board may open some of the district’s facilities after hours to fill at least part of the coming void.

Some 14 Miami-Dade libraries are slated to close as County Mayor Carlos Gimenez grapples with tight finances. The issue has been among the most scrutinized aspects of Gimenez’s 2014 budget proposal, which won’t be set until September.

On Wednesday, School Board members unanimously endorsed a proposal by Carlos Curbelo that the school district study potential partnerships with Gimenez and the county. He proposed that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho study locations where the district’s properties can “be used to provide library or media center access to the community.”

Curbelo said he hopes the county and district can collaborate and suggested adult education facilities could serve as libraries, or employee costs could be shared.

“I think we can do it in a way that doesn’t impose an undue burden on the district,” Curbelo said. “But let’s say there’s some cost, these libraries are invaluable.”

Carvalho said he’s already begun internal efforts, because the communities that stand to lose their libraries are those that can least afford it. Carvalho has also hoped to have county libraries carry public school wireless signals into neighborhoods where Internet access is limited, making the closings even more of a concern to the district.

He said he hopes the district can partner with the county, but will push forward to diminish the impact even if that doesn’t happen.

“There would be a disproportionate impact to communities that could ill withstand a loss to literacy opportunities,” he said.

After the board’s vote, county spokeswoman Vanessa Santana-Peñate issued a statement: “We are making every effort to explore innovative solutions to minimize potential service impacts. We are having many conversations with various stakeholders and welcome discussions with the school district.”

A collaboration between the county and school district on libraries would further a partnership solidified last month, when the Board of County Commissioners agreed to pursue specialized magnet programs with the school district. Plans include high schools like a performing arts industry school based out of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts; a high school at PortMiami; and an educational program in coordination with Miami International Airport.

The programs, while long-term prospects, are among the roughly 100 academies, magnet and choice options to be rolled out during the next two years in Miami-Dade, which Carvalho and his staff detailed Wednesday. In addition to the county collaboration, new programs include a new 100-student MAST Academy at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus, and a major expansion of 80 new University of Cambridge-affiliated programs throughout 70 schools - 23 of which open this year.

In addition, 49 middle schools will also begin in August teaching the district’s blended iMath program, funded by a federal Race to the Top grant.

“The intent here,” Carvalho said, “is to continue the rapid expansion of high-quality programs to guarantee high-quality choice for parents and students regardless of Zip code.”

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