Education

Charter schools aren’t included in school ballot measure. They’re not happy about it.

In this 2014 file photo, Rheeann Lucceus raises her hand with the answer beside classmate Christopher Mejia while doing addition with money in Erika Choi’s first grade class at Classical Prep, one of Pasco County’s newest charter schools. It focuses on a “classical” education that requires each student to take a core, liberal arts curriculum.
In this 2014 file photo, Rheeann Lucceus raises her hand with the answer beside classmate Christopher Mejia while doing addition with money in Erika Choi’s first grade class at Classical Prep, one of Pasco County’s newest charter schools. It focuses on a “classical” education that requires each student to take a core, liberal arts curriculum. Tampa Bay Times

Several charter schools operated by the Miami-based charter conglomerate Academica have been sharing a critical flier informing parents that charter schools will not benefit from the Miami-Dade County Schools property tax referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“Many of you have asked about the Miami-Dade School Referendum Question and what it means for your child’s school,” the flier read. “Therefore, we’d like to provide you with the latest information.”

The ballot measure asks voters if they would pay more in property taxes, about $140 for the average homeowner, to increase teacher pay and hire more school police officers. It was recently announced that 88 percent of the funding, or $204 million of raised funds, would go toward teacher salary supplements, with the remaining 12 percent, $30 million, going toward school police salaries.

Although the flier does not oppose the referendum, it reads, in bold, “The School Board has not committed to share this money with your child’s school, or any other public charter school, at this time.”

Under that, it notes that one in every five students in Miami-Dade attend a charter school and cites Florida law clarifying that all charter schools are public schools and are included in the state’s program of public education.

Doral Academy Elementary and Just Arts Middle posted the flier on their joint Facebook page and website, as did Somerset Academy Prep in Southwest Miami-Dade and Mater Lakes Academy in Medley. A spokeswoman for Academica did not respond to requests for comment.

This year, 69,000 of the school district’s 350,000 students are enrolled in a charter school. There are about 130 charter schools in the district.

Lynn Norman-Teck, the executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance, which represents 350 charters statewide including all Academica schools, said she was aware of the flier but did not know who created it. She called the flier “an information campaign” that provided clarity for charter school parents and teachers, who she said have been “excited” by the prospect of more pay and added security.

She said the alliance has fielded calls from member schools, including independent charters, asking if they’re included in the referendum.

“The [schools have] to let them know that they’re not part of the funding formula, that’s all,” she said.

Norman-Teck added that charter schools are interested in getting a cut of the referendum funding and said the alliance supports the referendum. She said she believes that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho would be “open to a conversation” about sharing funds because of his past support for school choice.

“At least from the association’s point of view, we have always advocated for equitable funding and the funding following the child, and that’s something we believe,” Norman-Teck said. “Now do we support this referendum? Yes, absolutely. We need funding. They need the funding dollars for safety initiatives and we believe in supporting our teachers. All teachers.”

The Miami-Dade County School Board has never discussed sharing any of the $232 million that would be raised through the passage of the referendum with charter schools, and Carvalho has repeatedly said that no charter schools have reached out asking to share the raised revenue.

The district said Carvalho was out of town on personal business Thursday and could not comment.

“While he has not been directly contacted by any local charter school, the Superintendent has stated in town hall meetings that there are certain elements of the referendum revenue he believes could be considered for charter school use, particular those of direct impact to safety and security,” wrote district spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego in an email. “But these are considerations that will ultimately have to be made in consultation with our Board.”

The board has not had any discussion on whether to share referendum funding with charter schools.

Broward County passed a similar referendum in the August primary election. Its ballot language specifically outlined that district teachers would receive extra pay and individual charter schools with more than 900 students would receive funding for hiring school resource officers and security staff.

“We need to ask a few questions and know what we can or can’t do,” said Miami-Dade County School Board vice chair Martin Karp. “I’m certainly comfortable weighing in on this.”

Board member Steve Gallon was the first, along with board member Lubby Navarro, to offer a board item to explore alternative funding sources and solutions to improve teacher salaries. Gallon’s item created a task force that ultimately recommended a property tax referendum to pay teachers more.

“When I drafted the item back in January, I did not contemplate or include the inclusion of charter schools,” Gallon said from San Diego, where he was speaking at a conference. He added that since budget recommendations are made by the superintendent, he would await Carvalho’s thoughts.

Board member Mari Tere Rojas said the board ought to share its safety and security funding with charter schools. She said there was no way to ensure that funding for teacher pay would be properly spent at charter schools.

“I personally feel that that’s something that I would not have any issues with,” Rojas said. “I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever because all children deserve to be in a safe environment.”

Norman-Teck said she contacted the district’s charter school office weeks ago to ask if charters would be included as beneficiaries of the referendum. She also said that some School Board members — she said she didn’t know who — had reached out to the alliance’s governance team to discuss the matter.

The funding for teachers would be subject to collective bargaining with the United Teachers of Dade, which does not bargain on behalf of teachers in charter schools.

Through the passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, the school district received an extra $10 million in safe schools funding to staff officers in schools. Of that, $2 million was shared with charter schools.

Norman-Teck said charters are interested in the money both to pay teachers more and hire security staff.

“You’re taxing parents. Our parents are paying into it,” she said. “I don’t think our parents see the difference between a charter teacher and a union teacher.”

Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws. Find out what sets them apart from traditional public and pri



Contact Colleen Wright at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.
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