With caution, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho laid out the framework Wednesday for a $2.9 billion general fund budget that he says will increase schools spending by millions next year while also reducing the property tax rate.
But the district’s budget crunchers also warned that what they see as overly optimistic tax-revenue projections from the property appraiser’s office will force the School Board to again stash away millions in “rainy day” funds.
“It’s not a budget that makes everybody happy,” Carvalho said. “But what in life is?”
The spending plan presented by Carvalho and Chief Financial Officer Judith Marte is not the district’s official budget. The complete document will not be established until later this month, when the state education commissioner certifies Miami-Dade’s tax rolls and sets a minimum local tax rate. After that, the School Board can choose to increase the rate up to an amount capped by the state.
But even as the district waits, Carvalho said “the work is pretty much done,” and he committed to taxpayers paying a lower tax rate than last year. He also wants the district to spend an extra $43 million on schools, largely through increased spending for teachers and counselors at elementary and high schools.
He said Wednesday that no teachers would lose their jobs for financial reasons, although declining enrollment at specific schools can always mean a shuffling in the workforce.
Also in the budget: A record $375 million for charter schools, dozens of new student-choice programs — such as magnet schools — and an extra $35 million heading into reserves. The last, he said, is necessary because the school district expects local tax revenues to fall short of the property appraiser’s rosy tax-base projections.
The problem, Carvalho said, is that the state expects Miami-Dade’s tax base and revenues to grow less than 5 percent. But the property appraiser has estimated the growth at more than 9 percent, and the state will pull back some funding in the expectation that local tax dollars will fill the gap.
District officials have been concerned for more than a year about property tax collections that now fall short by tens of millions of dollars, leaving the district to fill the gap with its reserves.
On Wednesday, School Board member Raquel Regalado suggested that the board consider filing a lawsuit over the tax-collection issue, which is overseen by the county’s Value Adjustment Board.
“I don’t think there’s any interest at the County Commission to resolve this issue,” said Regalado. “At this point, I don’t think we have any other choice.”
Carvalho also said the budget provides for about a dozen more schools police officers, and for a health clinic the district is opening at Miami Jackson Senior High School. A School Board meeting to vote on a lower tax rate is scheduled for July 16.