The recent exchange of words between the president of Miami Dade College and some members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation was unfortunate, but it has focused our community’s attention on the critical unmet financial needs of MDC. I’m confident that our legislative leaders will rise above the fray and do what is right for our community.
MDC’s classroom-utilization rate is the highest in the state and double the state average. MDC’s college-wide percentage of unmet construction need is 67 percent, as determined by Florida’s Department of Education.
The college’s District Board of Trustees has approved and recommended that MDC needs approximately $941 million in renovation, remodeling, new construction and critical long-deferred maintenance. These capital projects remain unfunded by the state, but this hasn’t been the only underfunding of the college.
MDC’s annual funding by the state has been cut repeatedly during the past several years. It has lost 14.2 percent in overall state funding per full-time equivalent student since 2006-07, falling from $3,643 to $3,127. The state’s share of MDC’s operational funds has fallen from 75 percent to less than 50 percent in the last 15 years, raising tuition.
To address this underfunding, the college has sought the passage of a state law to allow a referendum by the voters of Miami-Dade to approve a five-year, half-penny sales tax increase that would raise approximately $1 billion for the college. That money would be used to fund the identified capital needs and to provide financial aid and scholarships to the students.
Most people of Miami-Dade are like me and don’t like taxes. But we recognize the importance of a high-quality education for our residents and have said so repeatedly with our votes.
In 2008, 61.2 percent of county voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow a local referendum to levy a local option sales tax to supplement funding for the colleges. The amendment, however, received the support of 43.5 percent of voters statewide, falling short of the required 60 percent. Miami-Dade was the only county voting in favor, and we voters did so convincingly.
In 2012, nearly 70 percent of the voters of Miami-Dade approved the issuance of a $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond to meet the critical capital needs of our K-12 education which were not met by state funding.
If someone doesn’t like this referendum, they should campaign and vote against it. However, our legislative leaders should allow the referendum to let voters make their own decision.
Bob Martinez, former chair, MDC Board of Trustees, Miami