Miami-Dade Schools

Miami-Dade School Board finalizes $4.3 billion budget

The Miami-Dade School Board on Tuesday gave final approval to a $4.3 billion budget that preserves teachers’ jobs, pays for the hiring of additional schools police officers, and for the first time allocates more than $300 million toward charter schools.

Board members unanimously approved the budget, which runs July through June, in their second and final budget hearing. They set a tax rate of $7.977 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. That’s lower than last year’s rate but will cost the average owner of a homesteaded property about $24 additional dollars paid toward the School Board due to rising home values, according to the school district.

The budget includes a $2.9 billion general fund, which benefitted from about $165 million in additional dollars from the state but lost about $195 million in extra expenses. Among them: distributing funds to charter schools, whose student population swelled to about 50,000 this year.

New costs also include some $63 million set aside for employee raises allocated by the state. Negotiations continue with the district’s teachers union, and no agreement has been reached on how to distribute the dollars.

“Until your employees get the compensation they deserve, your work is not done,” Tom Gammon, first vice president of United Teachers of Dade, told the board.

The union has proposed a distribution plan that would give all teachers at least $2,500 - the amount proposed by Gov. Rick Scott - and cost the district about $100 million. The district, however, only has about $53.4 million for its own employees after distributing raise dollars to charter schools, and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has urged board members not to add money to the amount distributed by the state. Negotiators have also argued that teachers’ salary schedule needs to become more equitable after thousands received just $300 raises last year in a $30 million raise agreement.

Carvalho said Tuesday that the millions, which are available to all district employees, “shall be used first to benefit teachers, but not creating social discomfort with other employee groups.”

In other news, the School Board voted to request a study of the cost and feasibility of implementing a random drug-testing policy for students enrolled in extracurricular activities. Board member Raquel Regalado proposed the testing policy in the wake of allegations that local high school athletes received performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis of America, a Coral Gables clinic at the heart of the latest Major League Baseball doping scandal.

Regalado says she has courted private donors willing to fund the first year of testing, so the study is less about the district finding resources than it is about examining legality and the price tag associated with testing for specific substances. She said any further discussion of what a policy would entail would come after the study is finished.

“This is obviously just the first step,” Regalado said.

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