Miami-Dade’s tax hike doesn’t pay charter school teachers, so they’re writing letters

Somerset Academy Elementary School South Miami Campus is encouraging parents and students to write letters to the Miami-Dade County School Board to compel them to share part of the roughly $235 million raised in a property tax referendum passed in November to pay charter school teachers.
Somerset Academy Elementary School South Miami Campus is encouraging parents and students to write letters to the Miami-Dade County School Board to compel them to share part of the roughly $235 million raised in a property tax referendum passed in November to pay charter school teachers. Provided to the Miami Herald

Since Miami-Dade voters approved a four-year school property tax hike in November, the teacher’s union has already negotiated and begun disbursing about $211 million allocated in significant pay supplements for its 19,200-member teacher corps.

The county’s 1,830 charter school teachers aren’t included in that deal, and charter school advocates have not been happy about it. Now, letter-writing and social media campaigns have surfaced to encourage Miami-Dade School Board members to consider otherwise.

Somerset Academy in South Miami, for example, has asked students and parents to write at least two letters to board members. A pink slip with note paper attached circulated around the school with “Due Weds., Feb. 6th” written at the top.

“Unfortunately, the allotted funds are not to be evenly distributed among public charter school teachers,” the note read. “In order to convince lawmakers to honor the hard work teachers do, we are kindly asking all parents and students to write handwritten letters to School Board members.”

The school directed comment to Lynn Norman-Teck, the executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance, who said writing letters is not mandatory. She said the alliance has not instructed schools to write letters.

“I get calls almost every day from charter school principals asking what they can do,” she said. “They [teachers] want us to match. They want us to get the money. They don’t understand why they’re not included.”

She said some schools cannot match the smallest district-given supplement of 12.5 percent and can only do 5 percent.

A screenshot of an email shared by a United Teachers of Dade steward who used to teach in a charter school said that a charter school staffer will be writing the letters with students in class, “but if they want to get a head start at home, that would be great.” The steward’s post has spread throughout social media.

Charter school angst for being left out of referendum measures is growing across Florida. In Palm Beach, two charter schools are suing after the county’s referendum language explicitly excluded them from the funds. Bernie Navarro, chairman of the board of Miami Dade College and chairman emeritus of the LBA Academy, an MDCPS-operated charter school in Hialeah Gardens, penned an op-ed in the Miami Herald in favor of sharing dollars with charter school teachers.

And state Sen. Manny Diaz, who chairs the senate education committee, voiced his own displeasure about his home county not sharing referendum dollars with “all of their public school teachers” when he held a town hall in Miami Lakes with School Board members last week.

Ralph Arza, the director of government relations for the Florida Charter School Alliance, said he was meeting with lawmakers in Tallahassee this week to come up with a solution.

“We are hoping the school district, the School Board and the superintendent and the charter school movement can come to an understanding to do best for students and teachers,” he said.

School Board member Mari Tere Rojas said she’s received about 50 letters from charter school proponents.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has maintained that the district has been clear that dollars allocated for teachers will stay with those traditional public school teachers, but said he would share dollars for safety and security with charter schools before July. He said he’s received a letter in support of sharing dollars with charter schools from the City of Aventura.

In Miami-Dade, the governing board overseeing about 15 Mater Academy charter schools discussed the referendum. It hinted that charter school entitlement funds may be addressed at the state level.

“There is a lot of uncertainty; questions are being raised by our teachers,” read the Nov. 28 board minutes. “[Board] President [Roberto] Blanch states that Mater is in a position to stay competitive, even if it comes down to self-funding; believes that Mater is entitled to the funds as its students are public school students.”

Local charter schools have also been using the hashtag #ForAllTeachers, sharing images telling of the charter schools’ influence and linking to a web form that sends messages to board members. Many of these schools have services provided by Academica, the largest charter school operator in Miami-Dade.

Norman-Teck said smaller schools haven’t been advocating for their share of the referendum dollars because “they fear the district.”

Academica spokeswoman Adriana Lima said Academica has not instructed schools to initiate any particular campaign, but that families, teachers and administrators have reached out to their own governing boards “highly concerned about this matter.”

“It is clear that Miami-Dade’s 68,000 charter school families believe their children and teachers should benefit from the funds as well,” Lima wrote in an email. “Academica is fully supportive of charter school teachers being treated equally and encourage everyone to support them as well.”

An email from Academica special projects employee Andy Alfonso, which was obtained by the Miami Herald, shows the charter school giant is conducting “extensive outreach” in regards to the referendum. The email asks for the school’s parent email contact list “immediately” as Academica assists schools that wish to participate “in the execution of a multi-channel campaign encompassing both digital, print and in-person outreach.”

“The teachers’ unions are opposing charters receiving their fair share,” the email read. “We must fight for our and your school community are integral to this effort.”

Paying teachers more will help Miami-Dade County Public Schools attract and retain the best teachers for our children. Teacher of the Year, Rudy Diaz urges voters to fill in YES #362 at the bottom of the ballot for better teacher pay.

Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida.