Miami-Dade Debates Putting $1.2 Billion Bond Issue on Ballot

The Miami-Dade School Board is considering a proposal, made by the Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, to put a bond offering totaling $1.2 billion on the ballot this November. The bond issue would be used for long-overdue building and facility repair and to upgrade the aging technology infrastructure at some of the district's schools.

The last bond issue referendum was presented to Florida voters in 1988. The $980 million bond was approved by the voters and went, in part, towards building repair and towards building new schools. Some of the beneficiaries included schools like Miami Northwestern, which was constructed using some of the money raised via the bond.

This time, schools like Miami Norland Senior High and American Senior High would benefit if the voters say "yes." Their buildings will get much-needed upgrades and repairs and their computers and internet wiring will get an overhaul as well.

And in a way, Carvalho said, the children of those who benefited from the previous referendum would benefit from this investment. The bond program aims to upgrade schools, renovate older ones, replace parts or entire campuses where it makes financial sense and build limited new construction where enrollment is expected to rise – and provide equitable access to technology and digital resources to all students.

"There would be something every school would benefit from," Carvalho said. "It shouldn't be you go to school in a decent building or you have access to technology. You should be able to do both."

The 2008 recession hit Miami-Dade school district, one of the largest in the country, harder than most. Today, the school system finds its capital fund completely depleted with over $2 billion in projected capital expenses with no means to pay for them. As a result, over 400 district schools have had their scheduled maintenance pushed back indefinitely, and Carvalho believes that the local community will prove to be the solution to the district's fiscal crisis.

The problem would be convincing voters, many of whom are facing financial struggles of their own, to agree to pay up.

Miami-Dade isn't the only school district facing urgent maintenance needs with no clear way to cover the costs of carrying them out. Broward County Public Schools is carrying similar obligations on its buildings, but is forced to spend the majority of the budget allocated to capital improvements on servicing its debt.

Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie recently told the state Board of Education that funding for capital needs was among the district's top challenges. Runcie told The Miami Herald the district would eventually have to take the case to voters in some way, like a multi-year special tax, in the next couple of years.

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