Miami-Dade teachers could get as much as a 20 percent raise — but it’s up to voters

File photo from inside a Miami-Dade classroom.
File photo from inside a Miami-Dade classroom.

Teachers have long complained that they can’t afford to live in Miami-Dade County.

Miami ranks as one of the nation’s least affordable metro areas for educators and many local teachers work second or even third jobs to make ends meet. Others change careers or move to states where teachers are better compensated.

Now, the Miami-Dade school district is asking voters for help boosting teacher salaries by as much as 20 percent.

On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade School Board approved ballot language that will ask voters to increase property taxes by 75 cents per thousand dollars in taxable value, which amounts to less than $142 for the typical homeowner, according to the school district’s calculations. The tax increase would generate an extra $232 million a year, which the school district plans to use to give teachers a raise and hire additional security personnel. Other school employees, including school counselors and teacher’s aides, would also get a raise.

The School Board did not determine how the money would be divvied up. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recommended allocating 90 percent of the new funding for teacher salaries and 10 percent for school security. He said that would allow the district to give some teachers up to a 20 percent raise, although decisions about the size of the raises and which teachers would get them would be determined during salary negotiations with the teachers’ union. The remaining funds would cover the costs of placing armed security personnel at each school.

School officials say they need voters’ help because state funding for education “has continued to lag.”

“As a result of various policies implemented by the state over the course of the last 15 years, M-DCPS has effectively lost over $1.3 billion,” the superintendent’s office wrote in a document explaining the need for the referendum. This year, the school district saw just a 47 cent increase in per student state funding for schools’ regular operations. Although school districts did get state funds to beef up security, the money doesn’t cover the entire cost of complying with a new state law that calls for placing at least one school safety officer at every school.

“We’re trying to rectify a wrong and we’re trying to do right by our workforce,” Carvalho said at Wednesday’s School Board meeting. He added that the school district’s performance, including its A rating, justified teacher raises. “There is no better time than now to ask this question,” he said.

Miami-Dade residents have previously shown a willingness to tax themselves to boost school funding. Voters approved a $1.2 billion bond referendum in 2012 to rebuild and repair aging school facilities. United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernandez Mats said she believes voters will support a tax hike to boost teacher pay.

“We have employees that have the heart and care for the children that they serve and we ourselves do not have adequate pay for the work that we do,” she said. “We know that our community knows what we’re worth and we believe that the community will vote yes on this in November.”

Teachers rallied in front of the School Board building downtown on Wednesday morning carrying signs reading: “Invest in education” and “Invest in children.”

The School Board also voted to set up a citizen oversight committee, which would ensure the money raised through the referendum is spent correctly. Board members authorized Carvalho to develop a framework for the committee, which they will consider in August.

A previous draft of the ballot language said the money could also be used for “innovative programs,” which Carvalho described to the Miami Herald as art, music, additional school counselors, and bilingual programs. Carvalho removed that language after facing backlash from board members, who said they had not discussed using money raised through the referendum for school programs.

The tax hike, if approved by voters, would not be permanent. The higher property tax rate would last four years and would have to be renewed by voters in order to remain in place.

The Broward County school district is also asking voters for help raising extra funds. The Broward County School Board recently voted to put a property tax referendum on the August ballot. The proposed tax hike, expected to generate $93 million, would also be used to boost teacher salaries and pay for school resource officers and other security personnel.

Miami Herald staff writer Colleen Wright contributed to this report.