Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

The future of MDC

 

OUR OPINION: Unwise remarks should not distract from effort to get a sales-tax vote

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

MDC President Eduardo Padrón’s ill-chosen comments regarding a few members of the South Florida legislative delegation have created an unnecessary and unfortunate distraction from what should be the main issue — the future of Miami Dade College.

Mr. Padrón’s comments represent a personal attack on opponents of a move to allow this community to decide whether to increase the sales tax by a half-penny to benefit MDC.

As Mr. Padrón has acknowledged, the outburst was inappropriate — and entirely out of character for an individual with an admirable track record of working well with other leaders of the community. That’s what makes it all the more surprising. Mr. Padrón has an enormous reservoir of goodwill to draw on precisely because of his reputation for comity and fairness, not to mention his standing in the world of higher education.

The frustration behind his remarks is entirely understandable. Miami-Dade College is in dire straits due to increased enrollment at a time of diminishing resources. This has put crushing pressure on an institution that has become one of the educational mainstays of South Florida and a recognized institution of higher learning around the country.

The “People’s College” has grown from a two-year institution in the 1960s to a four-year college with 175,000 students offering degrees in hundreds of educational fields, from nursing to biological sciences — all intended to fill jobs in our local community. MDC has been a godsend for students who cannot afford to go elsewhere immediately after high school in pursuit of a degree in higher education, especially during the lean era of the last few years.

But its funding from the state is down $18.7 million since 2007-2008, or 9.8 percent. This reflects similar reductions across the board in capital expenditures, per-pupil funding, and the percent of total revenue derived from the state. Down, down, and down.

The result can be seen in unsightly, deteriorating buildings that need some $350 million in repairs. It can be seen in over-subscribed classes, reduced sections, and fewer faculty members. The list of needs goes on and on.

So what’s a college to do? Mr. Padrón calculates that this community realizes the value of MDC and its contribution to the local economy and would support it by approving a half-penny sales tax to raise $1 billion over five years, the proposed statutory limit.

The track record bears him out: In 2008, a constitutional amendment asked voters statewide if they would support a local vote to raise the sales tax for community colleges. Sixty-one percent of Miami-Dade voters said Yes!

Miami-Dade was the only county that passed the 60 percent threshold required for a constitutional amendment to be enacted. That move failed statewide, however. The issue now is purely local and mired in legislative politics.

It’s a shame that a handful of members of the local delegation are blocking an effort to let local voters in Miami-Dade County decide if they favor increasing the sales tax to benefit MDC. They’re working against the interests of the community.

That’s the heart of the issue. Opponents are entitled to debate whether MDC deserves more money, but it’s not fair for anyone to shut down the debate prematurely. Mr. Padrón has expressed regret for his unwise comments. Now the Legislature should allow local voters to have their say.

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