Top Schools — Lowest Funded Dade funding ranks among bottom 10 in state

By Ron Steiger….

Ron Steiger

On December 7, 2010, Dr. Martin Karp, School Board Member – District 3, and I spoke to the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Governors about the current financial picture in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS). The presentation was not long, but the message was clear: M-DCPS has done a great job these past two years in managing the fiscal crisis, yet unless action is taken at the State-level, looming shortfalls could lead to severe reductions in some of the educational programs we hold most dear.

Since the beginning of the 2007-08 school year, M-DCPS’ total budget has shrunk from $6.3 billion to $4.3 billion – a $2 billion loss. The resulting reductions the District has been forced to make have been severe, but they have spared the classroom. In fact, not one full-time teacher has been laid-off – a stark contrast to other major urban school districts across the country. In total, school level services have been reduced by only 5%, while administrative and support services have been cut by almost 50%. At the same time, our contingency reserves have increased from $5M to over $100M; an incredible change has taken us from the brink of bankruptcy to our strongest financial position in over a decade, which upgraded our credit rating outlook.

Revenue has dropped not only due to plummeting property values, but also a Florida education funding formula that seems designed to punish children and taxpayers in Miami-Dade County. In 2003- 04, Miami-Dade taxpayers received more per child for public K-12 education than the statewide average, while contributing less per child in education-related property taxes. This makes sense given the increased cost of living in Miami-Dade compared to other counties across Florida. By 2010-11, this situation had made a complete reversal. In fact, M-DCPS now ranks among the bottom ten districts statewide in terms of how much money we receive per student, yet our taxpayers are among the top in terms of how much they contribute per student. Several misguided and harmful legislative changes have led to this shift, and it is vital that in the upcoming Florida legislative session the inequities in the Florida Education Funding Formula begin to be rectified.

Another legislative challenge came in the area of compliance with the Class Size Amendment. Florida citizens have made it clear that it is important we keep our classes small. Yet while the Constitution calls for the State to fund the cost and no penalty to be levied on districts that fall short, the Florida Legislature has fallen woefully short in funding the full cost of compliance and has instituted a heavy financial penalty on districts. This year, M-DCPS has worked hard to be over 99% compliant with the class size minimums, but placing the financial burden on districts is unconstitutional and must be dealt with in Tallahassee, Florida.

Over the past two years, M-DCPS has righted its financial ship and become a model of efficiency among governmental organizations nationwide. Yet our focus on academics has been unwavering, and our students are achieving at unprecedented levels compared to their peers throughout the country. As we continue on our path towards providing a world-class education for every child in this county, it is important that we all come together so politicians in Tallahassee understand that we will not tolerate budget deficits be balanced on the backs our students. In our meeting with the Miami Beach Chamber, Dr. Karp urged the attendants to join School Board Members when they meet our delegation in Tallahassee. It is only with the united voice of the business community, concerned citizens and the school district that we can speak loudly enough to achieve the success our children deserve.

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