The superintendent of Florida’s largest school district says he has “grave concern” about state lawmakers’ proposed reforms in how charter schools get taxpayer funding for maintenance and construction projects.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Miami-Dade public schools stand to pay $83 million that the district hasn’t accounted for if the Legislature goes through with its plan to force school districts to share their local tax revenue for capital projects with charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed.
Carvalho first expressed those concerns in a letter to a Senate committee chairman last month, and he elaborated further in speaking with the Miami Herald’s editorial board on Tuesday.
There’s something somewhat flawed associated with that logic, and we are aggressively, aggressively fighting those proposals.
Miami-Dade public schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho
Never miss a local story.
His letter predated the Legislature’s more recent discussions of tying the mandate to share dollars with a separate, yet-to-be-approved provision that would let school districts raise their taxes and collect more revenue — dollars that would also have to be shared among charter and traditional public schools.
That two-part plan has only increased the district’s concerns. “Now the school boards would increase taxes to basically subsidize what is, by and large, privately owned real estate,” Carvalho said Tuesday. “There’s something somewhat flawed associated with that logic, and we are aggressively, aggressively fighting those proposals.”
A bill (SB 376) from Senate Pre-K-12 education budget chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, currently includes only the provision requiring shared funding, but he said last week that he doesn’t believe it’s possible to pass that unless school districts are also able to collect more revenue from local taxpayers.
Under current law, school districts can share their local tax revenue with charters, but only a few districts actually do — Sarasota, Sumter and Franklin, according to a legislative analysis.
Miami-Dade Schools collected $427 million from taxpayers this year for capital projects, Carvalho wrote in his letter to Simmons. Off the top, he said $250 million — or about 60 percent — of that goes to paying off existing debt. (In 2012, Miami-Dade voters approved a $1.2 billion bond issue to help the district catch up on delayed maintenance and improve technology in its aging schools.)
If the district were required to share its local tax revenue with charters, $83 million of that would go to charter schools, while just $94 million would be left for maintenance needs “for 45 million square feet of facilities at more than 420 sites,” according to the letter.
Carvalho told the Herald editorial board that the Legislature’s plan has three possible, significant impacts:
▪ It would have “the potential of bankrupting the school system.”
▪ It “would automatically result in a credit-rating agency downgrade.”
▪ “It would also stop ongoing maintenance projects from occurring.”
“So, this is of grave concern to us,” he said.
Carvalho said he’s not opposed to charter schools getting taxpayer help with their capital needs — the district prides itself on its support for school choice alternatives — but Carvalho is careful to distinguish between district-managed charter schools and those run by private companies whose infrastructure isn’t publicly held.
He pointed to Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School as an example of a charter school partnership done “the right way.” The school is privately controlled and financed, but publicly managed by the Miami-Dade School Board.
“It’s an asset that’s owned by the board, that’s owned by the people,” even with the private investment, Carvalho said.
“I do believe there ought to be a recurring revenue stream that funds capital outlay needs for the charter schools,” he said, “but ... it should not have an impact on the traditional public schools, because the people made a covenant with us.
“They made investments which were then bonded over decades and you cannot rearrange that without significant impacts — to the financing, to the credit rating or to the need to address maintenance deferred needs in our school system,” he said.