It was perhaps the shortest-lived protest in South Florida history, starting and ending before the cops could arrive.
But hundreds of Miami Dade College students hoped their show of solidarity Wednesday outside the offices of two Miami-Dade lawmakers would be enough to breathe life into a proposed $1 billion boost for their school.
About 300 students wearing fresh MDC T-shirts and waving hand-made posters suddenly appeared on chartered double-decker buses just before rush hour at the Doral office of state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, an opponent of proposed half-penny sales tax legislation to benefit Miami Dade College. They poured into the cramped parking lot off Northwest 25th Street and 107th Avenue, blocking the cars of cosmetic surgery patients for about 10 minutes before filling back into their buses when a representative of the BB&T building called police.
The students hoped their rally would boost the chances of the proposed bill (HB 113), which would allow Miami-Dade County voters to decide on a sales tax increase to fund improvements to the college’s facilities. Leaders of the college of 175,000 students say the money is badly needed for unfunded campus repairs.
“We’re coming to all of [the lawmakers] who don’t support the bill,” said Deandra Cooper, a 26-year-old criminal-justice major. “Some classrooms have mold. Some classrooms just aren’t in good condition.”
The rally did not appear to sway Trujillo, but it may have thrown more gasoline onto the fire ignited by MDC President Eduardo Padrón when he blasted Trujillo and several other Republicans last week, saying they were sabotaging the legislation.
Padrón has since apologized for a personal shot included in his criticism. But some members of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation said what chances the bill had of passing were damaged by his comments to the Miami Herald editorial board.
Reached Wednesday evening, Trujillo said he supported the college’s funding proposal when it surfaced years ago, but cooled on it because of what he said was a lack of information about how the money would be spent. He said the college’s audited financial statements show the school is crying poor while sitting on $500 million “cash on hand” and making annual profits of more than $80 million.
“What I discovered is appalling,” he said. “These children should be outraged that the school is holding up $500 million.”
Not so, said Miami Dade College chief financial officer E.H. Levering. “Those numbers are all news to me.”
Levering said he would be happy to walk Trujillo or anyone else “through the realities” of the cash-strapped, nonprofit college’s budget and the specifics of the proposed spending.
As for Wednesday’s protest, a spokesman said the college supports its students’ right to express themselves.
Katherine Fardin, government relations director of the North Campus student government association, said Wednesday’s trip to the offices of Trujillo and Rep. Jose Oliva — who apparently, like Trujillo, was not there — was organized by the Student Life Department. Student activity funds paid for the five chartered buses, she said.
“We just want them to know that we want our right to vote [in a referendum],” Fardin said.