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Miami-Dade school board oks tax referendum for Nov. 8 ballot

C.M. Guerrero
El Nuevo Herald
Miami-Dade County school officials say a property tax increase is vital to generate funding to recruit and retain dedicated educators and school safety staff.

The Miami-Dade County school board plans to once again ask voters to pay more in taxes to reinvest in public education. The board voted Wednesday to call for a referendum to be put on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot to raise funds the district says are critical to attract and retain educators and school safety staff.

If Miami-Dade County voters choose to increase their property taxes, the school district would raise an extra $395 million a year to boost pay for teachers and expand school safety efforts.

The referendum is a continuation and an increase of the measure voters approved by more than 70% in 2018. According to the district, the property tax hike allowed the school system to boost pay for instructional staff and nearly double the size of the Miami-Dade School Police, the largest school police force in the nation. That measure is set to expire June 30, 2023.

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Superintendent Jose Dotres says the proposed tax increase is essential for MDCPS to invest in its workforce and compete with neighboring districts, at a time when the pandemic has pushed teachers and school staff across the country to their breaking point, and as housing costs in the county are skyrocketing.

“When the current referendum authorization ends on June 30, 2023, our ability to support supplemented compensation for teachers will also sunset, as will our ability to provide an officer at all our school sites from bell to bell,” Dotres said.

According to a National Education Association survey, 55% of teachers are considering leaving the field earlier than they had planned. The Florida Department of Education estimates there will be 9,000 teacher vacancies by the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Board Member Mari Tere Rojas says the district has to boost pay for instructional staff to keep them on the job.

“It is absolutely essential for the sake of our teachers and for the sake of the future of this country. Because our future leaders, our students, need to have teachers that are stellar,” Rojas said. “In order to retain them we need to compensate them accordingly.”

Specifically, the referendum would ”continue improving compensation for teachers and instructional personnel and to improve student safety and security for public schools, including charter schools, with oversight by a citizen advisory committee,” according to the language of the measure.

The proposal would set the tax rate at one mill over four years, which is equal to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That rate would be an increase from the .75 mill for the 2018 referendum.

The school districts in Palm Beach and Broward counties are also proposing their own referendums for this fall. Palm Beach’s measure maintains a millage rate of one mill, while Broward’s would increase from .5 mill to 1 mill.

Dotres said the millage increase is needed in part because now the district will be forced to share some of the referendum revenues with charter schools, due to a change in state law.

According to the district, the proposed referendum would amount to an extra $219 a year for the average homeowner.

Board Member Marta Pérez says she’s worried about selling the proposal to voters, at a time when inflation is cutting into Floridians’ paychecks — and as state lawmakers have already committed to raising teachers’ wages. When questioned about a proposal to increase millage rates to fund schools in Duval County, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged voters to be cautious.

“I’ll let them decide,” DeSantis told reporters in March. “I would tell voters: Just be very careful when people are putting this out.”

“The message everywhere [from state lawmakers] is ‘we’re giving more to teachers, we’re giving more to teachers.’ And people at home are looking at their bills and it’s substantially more,” Pérez said. “I’m wondering how we’re going to address the message that some people are going to say, ‘Look, I’m already paying more already.’ ”

Dotres acknowledged that the district faces a challenge on promoting the referendum.

“I think we can provide a real accurate message that reflects the need,” Dotres said. “That is going to be a balancing act of a message that we have to provide.”

The board’s vote Wednesday directs the Miami-Dade County Commission to place the measure on the November ballot. The county has to approve the proposal before it’s official.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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