$30 million in reserve und for school revenue shortfallWhile the outlook for improving education in Miami-Dade schools remains positive, a yearly struggle with projected finances based on anticipated local and state revenues continues to plague the best of planning for 2015-16.
That was a primary concern of Miami- Dade Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho two weeks before finalizing a new budget aimed at increasing magnet options, access to technology, new programs for disabled and suspended students, counseling services and bilingual competency, among other key hallmarks.
Speaking to nearly 100 Kendall residents on Sept. 14, Carvalho initially leveled criticism at a yearly “slowdown” of resident tax appeals that lead to shortfalls in revenues from back-logged local tax projections, requiring a new reserve fund of $30 million.
Delays caused by a manual checking system used by a Value Adjustment Board to save taxpayers money when original appraisals are struck in favor of a lower assessment and consequent tax figure have created a two-year backlog, resulting in uncertainty of final revenue collections.
Carvalho noted a mid-September report written by the Miami-Dade County Inspector General’s office blamed an inefficient county appeal system as responsible for a backlog of millions of dollars in delayed payments that affect budget planning.
Upon release of the report, recommendations to speed the process were immediately promised by County Clerk Harvey Ruvin and Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia who said additional staff members had been hired to clear 61,000 appeals in 2014 that delay collecting funds to make up a current shortage.
“The final figure due schools can create up to a $60 million difference in projections we work with,” Carvalho pointed out, noting that the figure could offset changes in collective bargaining agreements due for negotiation.
“Last year, the school system lost $60 million in lost revenues,” reported Carvalho who said the pending 2015-16 budget provides $30 million in reserve funds to help offset any shortfall in the two-year backlog of tax assessments under appeal.
“Ever since the downturn in the economy and the impact of foreclosures, the backlog of appeals has grown — so that the final amount available during budget planning can actually vary from as much as $30 to $60 million, depending on final revenues once the appeals are settled,” he said during a Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA) meeting in which much of his time was spent answering local teacher complaints about school board pay planning.
Nonetheless, Carvalho found time to list several key programs that are funded for 2015-16, noting “we are building a rigorous and relevant curriculum that has digital convergence initiatives to transform the process by which students explore the cyber world.” Two examples among more than 50 innovative items:
• Nine new magnet programs that vary from a Forensic Investigative Academy at Miami Palmetto Senior High School to Medical Health Science programs slated for McMillan Middle and South Dade Middle schools.
• Distribution of 32,000 Student Tablet Programs to all middle school eighth grade U.S. History classes and all 10th grade high school students enrolled in English Language Arts.
Computer programming makes sense with the growing realization that digital coding has become an essential skill for student success in the classroom and after graduation, he pointed out. Other new initiatives:
• Creating new school environments for suspended students to “encourage their return to school, rather than languish at home or on the streets;
• A pressing need to adopt a Floridaonly testing program in place of the current system based on a Utah experimental model which, he said, applied only to 60 percent of Florida students, and
• Explorations into a “recalibration of teaching foreign languages” as well as new ways of teaching basic courses in both Spanish and English caused by a new look at how math and sciences best develop improved retention.
A major portion of his time was spent defending school board policies on teacher salaries which he said “often are confused when raises for certain teachers are the result of changed positions,” (i.e., from teaching to administrative posts, rather than unfairly approved increments).
As the 90-minute session concluded, KFHA president Michael Rosenberg asked as a final question how schools are being impacted by recent shooting incidents, Carvalho replying that teachers continue to encourage productive lives while adding his attendance at funerals, hospitals and with parents of deceased students remains “the hardest part of my job.”