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Voters to decide fate of $1.2B bond

caines | 8/23/2012, 5:30 a.m.

But will Black schools get their fair share?

Monday was the first day of classes for close to 325,000 students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools [M-DCPS]. And as always, young children suffered from periodic bouts of separation anxiety while older students at the middle and high school levels talked about their summer vacations, complained about less-than-stylish uniforms and searched the grounds looking for their classrooms. And while M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho made his annual visit to schools throughout the County, including North Dade Middle School and Miami Edison, there was something very different about this year. Carvalho officially kicked off the campaign for a $1.2 billion bond referendum. After getting the go ahead from the Florida Department of Education [FLDOE] and following the Boards approval at its meeting on Aug. !5th, voters can expect to see a General Obligation [GO] bond referendum on the November 6th ballot. Carvalho first presented the proposal and the rationale behind it to returning administrators, board members and parents during his recent State of the School Address. Voters will determine if the Board can borrow up to $1.2 billion in bonds in order to upgrade deteriorating schools some that havent been upgraded or improved since they were built 40-plus years ago and to bring the Countys schools up-to-date with the latest technology. School officials estimate that almost half of the District buildings are over 40-years-old and over one-third are more than 50-years-old. Carvalho calls the 21st Century School Facilities proposal a win-win solution pointing out that the bond issue would have minimal impact on the typical homeowner a projected $10 in the first year. He also stressed to board members and the public that now is the time to act, as construction costs are significantly lower than their peak while interest rates are at historical lows. We asked Carvalho to address some concerns that are specific to the Black community, including what steps are being taken to ensure that our schools will not be left out should this new building and improvement project be approved by the voters. Carvalho responds to Black concerns A project list submitted to and approved by the FLDOE includes every school in the District as a candidate for improvements under the BO Bond program. But how were they chosen and by what criteria will schools be selected? Projects at existing campuses are categorized as renovations, full and partial building replacements and technology upgrades, Carvalho said. Over 280 schools are listed as renovation candidates based on the age and condition of their buildings . . . incorporating input from principals and regional superintendents. Needs are revisited annually as part of the Districts annual capital budget discussions which involve a number of stakeholders, ranging from advisory committees to representatives of the various local jurisdictions. Carvalho added that in order to adequately inform the public, a series of informal meetings will be conducted in the coming weeks in all areas of the community each will be advertised to encourage stakeholder participation and input. However, with the disproportionate number of D and F schools being majority-Black, some parents and voters have asked whether underperforming schools will benefit from the bond program. All schools will benefit from capital improvements under the bond program, Carvalho said. He also pointed to a recent special report, Rebuilding Americas Schools, that draws a link between infrastructure and student performance. The article notes that communities that have provided a local solution by issuing bonds experience higher attendance and lower vandalism since the modernization of their school facilities, he said. Carvalho also addressed concerns about the composition of the yet-to-be-announced advisory and oversight committee for the GO referendum. Members will be determined by the school board and the superintendent initial discussions regarding this matter have called for the appointment of two representatives by each board member and two by the superintendent one with technical expertise and one representing the community stakeholders.