Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

There’s a right way for Broward to secure bond issue

 

OUR OPINION: School district should look to Miami-Dade for a lesson in winning voters’ approval

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Commend Broward County’s school leaders for agreeing to pursue an $800-million bond issue to improve schools throughout the district. Few elected officials want to ask constituents to pay even a little more for just about anything, no matter how necessary. But too many schools are in dire need of rehab in the county, and School Board members, encouraged by Superintendent Robert Runcie, were right to agree to move the district forward.

School Board members approved the proposal on Tuesday. That was the easy part. Now they have to persuade voters to seal the deal and approve the bond issue when they go to the polls in November. Board members, administrators and, especially Mr. Runcie, should look to Miami-Dade County for guidance in making it happen. Miami-Dade has been there and can feel Broward’s pain.

There are dozens of schools in Broward where the roofs leak. There’s a high school without an auditorium. Computers in the classrooms might as well be from the Stone Age. And there’s much more that needs to be upgraded throughout the district if students are to receive a 21st-century education and be prepared to confront and conquer 21st-century workforce and career challenges.

If voters say Yes, the bond issue will add about $50 to the average homeowner’s annual property tax bill, according to Broward school district officials.

Getting to “yes” is the challenge school leaders must meet. They must tell voters just what the money will do — and where — how it will be spent and how that spending will be monitored. No matter how crucial the bond issue, no matter how dire the need, voters will walk away if they fear a lack of transparency, integrity, fairness and competence in how the funds are distributed.

In 2012, when Miami-Dade’s public-school district sought a $1.2-billion bond issue, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho became the voice of the successful campaign — trusted, resolute and caring. It didn’t hurt that the district had received national recognition for its students’ academic accomplishments.

• First, Miami-Dade emphasized specifics: Families knew early on what renovations and upgrades their own schools were in line to get if the bond issue passed. It was well-publicized, and voters could go to a school-district website to get details.

• Second, funds and upgrades were distributed equitably across the county, taking into account not just serving schools with the greatest need, but also weighing which ones could be upgraded most quickly and efficiently.

• Third, the district promised transparency, and kept that promise. A committee of prominent community members, none with business ties to the school district, oversees how the funds are spent and is in place to keep it all on the straight and narrow.

According to Miami-Dade County Public Schools, work is ahead of schedule in some locations. In fact, all of the district’s schools are now wireless, which President Obama noted when he appeared at Coral Reef Senior High in February. That’s four years ahead of the goal the president himself set for all schools in the country.

Broward, for its part, has a higher hurdle to clear, having been slammed as “reckless” with the public’s money three years ago by a statewide grand jury. Mr. Runcie was brought in to restore credibility and momentum.

In order to get the bond issue passed, he’ll have to persuade wary residents that he has done both.

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