Miami-Dade school board moves toward slightly lower tax rate

The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday proposed a $5.1 billion budget that would come with a slightly lower tax rate.
The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday proposed a $5.1 billion budget that would come with a slightly lower tax rate. Miami Herald Staff

Miami-Dade school board members on Wednesday took the first steps toward setting a slightly lower tax rate to fund a proposed $5.1 billion budget that they say protects teacher jobs, spends more on bilingual education and boosts reserves.

Board members agreed to advertise a tax rate of $7.39 per thousand dollars of taxable property value. Once the tax rate is advertised, it can go down but is extremely difficult to raise.

“All the way around it’s a good news story,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Miami-Dade’s budget marks a milestone: For the first time since the real estate crash, it exceeds $5 billion, allowing the district to replenish reserves that fell by an alarming rate during the economic downfall.

Under the proposed tax rate, the typical homeowner with a property valued at $192,000 and taking the standard homestead exemption would pay $27.52 less than last year. But, given an estimated 9 percent boost in property values, some homeowners may see their bill increase by $26.82, according to district projections.

The tax rate is largely decided by Florida lawmakers who set a minimum that school boards must levy in order to qualify for state funding. State funding for schools only increased by about 1 percent.

Still, district leaders say homeowners will pay less, thanks to a decrease in the portion of taxes that pay for debt. Carvalho called the decrease “remarkable,” given a $1.2 billion bond passed by voters in 2012. The district has aggressively refinanced the debt, allowing the district to save money while spending down the bond on school building improvements and more technology in the classroom.

“I think we’re doing good by our employees but also honoring the commitment we have to our residents. It’s very difficult to balance,” said school board member Raquel Regalado.

The bulk of the district’s spending goes towards teachers. Less than 1 percent is spent on district administration — an “all-time low,” according to Carvalho. An additional $1 million will be spent on bilingual education after parents and teachers called for better programs. The district’s rainy-day fund will also get a boost, bringing the district’s savings account to about 4 percent.

Charter schools continue to claim an ever bigger chunk of the district’s budget. School officials predict charter school enrollment will increase to almost 64,000 students — out of a district total of 355,000. The district expects to spend $430 million on charters, an 8 percent increase from the previous year. Charter schools get public funding but are privately run.

The tax rate and budget need to pass two votes of the school board. The first public budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on July 27 at the School Board Administration Building, 1450 NE Second Ave. in Miami.

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga