- Faith & Family
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 Board’s 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 haven’t been upgraded or improved since they were built 40-plus years ago — and to bring the County’s 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 District’s 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 America’s 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.”
Responses from the Black community
School Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall whose District includes Liberty City called for “sustained accountability” as discussions move forward regarding the bond referendum.
“I appreciate the information from the pollsters but in some districts and zip codes we must be diligent overseers and we must deliver,” she said. “My hope is that the advisory board will mirror the diversity of our communities. I trust the Superintendent but must see it happen. We all have to play our parts to make sure no child or school is left out.”
School Board Member Willard “Tee” Holloway said, “While we face great challenges, what we do now and how we approach the problems facing our schools and our students will illustrate the level of our courage. If not now, when? This is about doing what’s needed to improve student achievement across the board and to reduce the disparity that exists between certain schools. It’s a start — it’s a needed start. But it’s not a cure all.”
T. Willard Fair, president and CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami, shared his views following the board meeting.
“I have no evidence from the past not to believe that Blacks will be treated equally and get our fair share of building renovations and technological upgrades at our neighborhood schools,” he said. “What we need to communicate to all the voters is how important this bond referendum is to the community. I’ve been in every school in Liberty City and a lot of those schools need to be condemned and closed. What does that tell our children about how much we care about them and their future? This should not be looked at as a color issue. We have to show them that there can be something better than what currently exists. The problems facing our schools have become clearly apparent during our watch and we must be responsible and concerned enough to act — and to act now.”
A summary of what the bonds will facilitate as outlined in the Facilities proposal includes: help to enhance the safety and security of school buildings; renovate or upgrade every school; guarantee technology equity across all schools; seek stakeholder input while minimizing the burden to taxpayers; promote greater public/private partnerships; provide economic development and employment opportunities to our community; and provide transparency and confidence with citizen advisory and oversight committees to ensure timely and equitable distribution of projects.
By D. Kevin McNeir