Tax cuts for Miami-Dade homeowners means cuts for Miami Schools. Florida's 67 school districts stand to lose a total of $7.1 billion by 2012 if voters decide in January to revamp property taxes. The biggest losers in the state will be Miami Schools and Broward County Schools; both of which could lose up to $637 million over the next four years.
Although Tallahassee has vowed to make up for those losses they have yet to find the $7 billion to do it. The Associate Superintendent for Miami Schools stated that, “We must hold the state accountable to the promises it has made”. However, school officials are skeptical. Miami Schools are still hurting from the cost of implementing the class-size amendment that the state imposed in 2001, and said they would pay for. Miami Schools spent $600 million to be in compliance with this amendment, and the state has only reimbursed $143 million. Miami Schools are concerned about how they are going to pay the additional teachers and fund the additional classrooms it provided when the state is cutting its revenue.
Over the past five years, the state has been shifting the responsibility for supporting schools to homeowners. State revenues paid for 63 percent of Miami Schools costs in 2002; district officials say this year they'll cover just 49 percent. This situation puts the responsibility on property owners. If they receive a tax cut then the responsibility is on no one. In addition, some are uneasy with the thought of replacing local funding sources with state ones because Florida's education spending ranks so low when compared to the rest of the nation. Miami Schools feel that their lifeline is about to be cut and they are wondering how they will make up the difference.
Districts across the state fear potentially reduced tax bases, but the outcome is especially worrisome in South Florida, which has been hit hard by the loss of the district cost differential; a formula that favored urban school districts with high costs of living. In addition, the Miami Schools also stand to lose nearly 9,000 students this year, which will mean a loss of $40 million in state funding.
While the district may be able to make up some of the loss by simply raising tax rates, that money would largely go to fund operational costs, such as salaries, books, utilities and buses. Miami Schools realize that no matter what they do there will still be cuts. They are spending time now trying to find ways to run schools more efficiently. There will be less renovation and building of new schools in order to maintain the existing schools. With the decline of enrollment Miami Schools still have a $3.1 billion construction plan to meet the lower classroom size of the 2001 amendment. Still, there may be some cuts. In order to achieve this Miami Schools will need to borrow the money. But with the lower tax base and revenue they won’t have much leverage. This could mean more children in fewer classrooms, which will hurt everyone.
Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U. S. public and private K-12 schools. For more information please visit Miami Schools