The Miami-Dade School Board gave a first nod to the 2017-18 budget on Wednesday amid concerns about the long-term financial impacts of a new state education law.
Board members tentatively approved a $5.1 billion budget that includes money to hire more guidance counselors and custodians, and funds for new textbooks. This is the district’s largest budget since the recession.
The board also tentatively adopted a lower tax rate of $6.99 per thousand dollars of taxable property value, down from last year’s rate of $7.32. The portion of the schools tax rate that pays for debt increased slightly, but the overall tax rate fell.
Under the proposed tax rate, a typical homeowner in Miami-Dade with a house valued at $203,000 and taking the standard homestead exemption would pay $27.84 less than last year, according to district projections.
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That’s because of a change in state requirements. The Florida Legislature sets the amount districts must levy in order to receive state education funds and this year the Legislature lowered the required local contribution.
While that may be good news for taxpayers, it also means the school district is unable to raise more revenue to boost teacher salaries, said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Other local government entities are not under the same state restrictions and can take advantage of rising property values to give workers a raise.
“In this uneven equation, teachers are left out,” Carvalho said. “There’s a partial and naturally unfair treatment of teachers when we recognize that economic improvements in our county and our state do not translate into better funding of education which would directly translate into higher wages.”
The proposed budget does not include any teacher layoffs, Carvalho said, but the district is making cuts to administrative spending.
At the public hearing Wednesday evening, School Board members complained that the district has been forced to tighten its belt following a year of record academic achievements including boosting graduation rates above 80 percent and eliminating F-rated schools.
“As educators, each year we are asked to do more with less, and each year we do it,” Monica Howell of United Teachers of Dade said. “Imagine what we could do if we were funded properly.”
State lawmakers initially voted to boost per-pupil funding by $24 per student, but ended up increasing spending by $100 per student over the 2016-17 school year after Gov. Rick Scott ordered legislators back to Tallahassee in early June for a special session. Public education proponents were hoping for a larger increase in schools spending in light of the state’s economic gains.
All members voiced support for the budget, especially, as board member Steve Gallon put it, “in light of the draconian efforts taken at the state level to reduce our revenue in a time of plenty.”
School officials are also worried about a controversial new state education law that forces school districts to share tax dollars earmarked for school construction with charter schools. Miami-Dade might have to share as much as $23.2 million with local charter schools in 2018.
And it’s not just changes at the state level that are keeping school leaders up at night. Cuts to federal education spending could also hurt the school district’s bottom line in the future. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Education Department, including slashing funds for teacher training and after-school programs.
“We’ve had eight years of thin cows. This is the thinnest,” School Board Chairman Lawrence Feldman said. “I’m very proud of this budget. It doesn’t cut into our staff or the services we provide.”
A second public hearing and final adoption of the school district budget is scheduled for Sept. 6.