Miami-Dade School Board Struggles Under Budget Cuts, In-Fighting

Miami, FL– The beleaguered Miami-Dade School Board, charged with the care and development of the United States’ fourth-largest school district, reached a new low last week as Superintendent Rudy Crew and board member Marta Perez got into a shouting match. At one point Crew yelled, “Do not talk to me as a dog!”, as Perez objected, “I have the floor, I have the floor!” WLRN radio, part of the county school system, broadcast the heated exchange during one of their local news segments.
This latest episode came after Crew’s announcement that hundreds of job cuts, including teaching jobs, might still be in the works despite the Miami-Dade school year having already started. Understandably, many parents and teachers expressed concerns that such cuts at this time could directly impact students, especially after the delay of the first day of school due to Tropical Storm Fay, according to the WLRN report. The Board manages a yearly budget of about 6 billion dollars and a total enrollment of about 338,000 students according to its website.

Earlier this summer, Crew, named 2008 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Associaton of School Administrators, faced a Board vote that could have landed him on the unemployment line. The item, sponsored by board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla, a member of one of South Florida’s most powerful political families, alleged primarily that Crew had been negligent of responsibilities of his post and unresponsive to the Board on several occasions. The vote came in against Crew’s ouster, largely, unfortunately, along ethnic lines. Crew and most of his board supporters are black. DeLa Portilla and most of his are non-black Hispanics. The underlying race issue only further tears at the fabric of a school system in turmoil.

Despite decades of promises of funds for education from the Florida Lottery, Miami-Dade schools struggle constantly to keep their schools operating well and to pay teachers better salaries. The little-known catch is that the Lottery only provides funds approved by the Florida legislature in their budget. In other words, no additional money from sales of lottery products goes to public schools; only the amount that would have come from taxpayers anyway. This year, the cash-strapped State cut millions from the Miami-Dade budget, furthering tensions at county hall.

Soberingly, Miami-Dade School Board Chairperson Agustin J. Barrera was quoted in the WLRN piece saying that if the organization continues on this path it could soon draw intervention measures from Governor Charlie Crist.

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