Plans for the country’s largest mall are likely to clear another hurdle Wednesday when the Miami-Dade County School Board will vote whether to cancel a lease on land being eyed for the project.
No school board member has publicly opposed the deal, which would bring $7.2 million to district coffers.
“Any opportunity to receive millions of dollars is always welcome to us,” said board member Martin Karp.
The vote comes a day after the American Dream Miami project got preliminary approval by Miami-Dade County commissioners in an 11-2 vote on Tuesday.
Developer Triple Five, which is also behind Minnesota’s Mall of America, is proposing to build a 4-million-square-foot shopping theme park where Interstate 75 meets the Florida Turnpike. To build it, the company wants a 45-acre slice of public land currently tied up in a long-term lease with the school board.
The school board picked up the property in 2004 in case it was ever needed to build a school. It costs the district about $300 in administration fees every year for the lease, said Chief Facilities Officer Jaime Torrens. Since the property is now slated for commercial and not residential development, Torrens said the district won’t need the land.
Without getting into the merits of the mega mall proposal, school board members say canceling the lease is a good deal for the district.
“Our students are going to benefit,” said board member Lubby Navarro.
Miami-Dade County would pay the district to acquire the lease. The county would then acquire the land from the state, and sell it to Triple Five.
At the school district, the money from the canceled lease would go to capital projects, adding more money to the $1.2 billion bond that passed in 2012 for school improvements.
School board member Raquel Regalado, who opposes the mall plan as a county mayoral candidate, said the lease cancellation is nonetheless a good deal for the district. She said the additional money is needed to fix surprise issues the district has run into as it starts to fix up schools with bond money.
“My position as a mayoral candidate is completely different from my position as a school board member,” Regalado said. “I’m going to vote for the sale because its a great deal for Miami-Dade County public schools.”
In other business, the school board will:
* Consider an audit by the Florida Auditor General that dings the district for its IT policies and found that facility maintenance issues went years without correcting.
The audit, which covers the 2012-2013 fiscal year, claims the district didn’t advise students their personal information had been stolen by a cafeteria worker until 180 days after the crime.
In its response to the audit, the district notes it has adopted a security incident response plan.
The district also says it has addressed the great majority of facilities maintenance issues cited in the audit. According to the state, almost 400 deficiencies remained unresolved for two or more years after inspections first turned up the problems – including “unmaintained fire alarm systems and smoke detectors.”
* Consider a district audit of the Value Adjustment Board. Known as the VAB, the board hears property tax appeals. A backlog in appeals has led to years of budget shortfalls because the district doesn’t know how much money in property taxes will come in until after the budget is set.
The audit found that some of the rules governing the VAB may conflict with state law. Some recommendations in the audit include entering into written agreements with the special magistrates who hear appeals and to use their time more efficiently.
A second half of the audit is still pending, and will look at the property appraiser’s office. Also pending is a separate review being done by the Office of the Inspector General.
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