Miami-Dade Superintendent Carvalho proposes lower school tax rate; leaves spending intact

In a sudden reversal, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho revised his proposed budget Wednesday to lower the school tax rate below last year’s.

Last week, Carvalho unveiled a $4.3 billion budget that, as expected, included a tax hike due to new debt from the first installment of the district’s voter-approved $1.2 billion capital bond initiative. But Carvalho announced during the board’s monthly meeting that statewide tax rolls were certified at a higher-than-expected level Tuesday evening by the state, granting the district the flexibility to reverse its path and lower its overall rate without forcing cuts or reducing spending.

“This is an unprecedented move,” Carvalho said. “I believe we’re turning the impossible into the inevitable today, and we’re doing it for all the right reasons. We’re doing it for our kids, we’re doing it for our teachers, we’re doing it for our taxpayers.”

The new budget means relief for homeowners, who would have previously been taxed at an increased rate of $8.041 per $1,000 of taxable property value. That rate, which taxpayers will see on their Truth in Millage notices, is now tentatively set at $7.977, a drop of about .02 percentage points from last year.

It’s also good news for Miami-Dade School Board members, who last fall campaigned with Carvalho for voters to increase their own property taxes to finance a massive overhaul of aging school buildings and technology upgrades. Homeowners were told their bills would go up $5 per every $100,000 this year to pay for the first $200 million installment of the bond issue.

Now, they’re actually getting the bond work at a discount of $0.21.

“The community was so generous with our school system … with 70 percent of people self-imposing a tax increase to invest in our school system,” said board member Carlos Curbelo. “And this is a wonderful way to say thank you.”

Board member Raquel Regalado said the School Board is over-delivering on its promise to voters at a time when raising taxes remains toxic.

“It is irresponsible for government where we are right now to raise taxes, and we saw that at the county meeting yesterday,” she said, referring to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s reversal, going amid criticism from a tax rate increase to spending cuts. “Promises made are promises that are going to be kept. This budget goes further than promised.”

Meanwhile, Carvalho’s proposed budget, including $2.9 billion for operational expenses, remains intact.

Chief Financial Officer Richard Hinds said the district was able to lower its tax rate without hurting its revenues due to the fatter statewide property values, certified Tuesday by Florida’s Commissioner of Education. That allowed the Miami-Dade School Board to further lower the portion of the tax rate controlled by the School Board. It also allowed the district to restructure ongoing debt from a 1988 bond issue, and lower the portion of the tax rate related to debt service.

Carvalho reiterated Wednesday that no teachers will be laid off, bilingual courses, after-school programming and athletics will be preserved, and exceptional student education will be expanded, despite a $28 million shortfall. At the same time, spending remains increased by roughly $200 million over last year due to new expenses, like $63 million in state-mandated teacher raises, increased medical insurance costs and the steady drain of students into charter schools.

Carvalho also stressed he isn’t playing with budget numbers, and that his budget proposal changed after he received a 5:30 p.m. email Tuesday bearing good news about Florida’s tax rolls.

“If we had this information a week ago, this would have been our recommendation then,” he said.