Belt-tightening, New Programs and Resources Mark School Year’s Start

When state funding for a new school year falls drastically short, what’s a Florida school district to do?

At Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we are mitigating a $60 million deficit by cutting spending and improving operations, even as we roll out a host of new resources and rigorous academic offerings for students.

Not only are our revenues down—by $2.2 billion since 2007—but student enrollment is headed up, posing an all-too-familiar challenge: How to apportion shrinking resources to meet growing demands. Add the tough task of extending substantial learning gains amid shifting standards, and the challenge gets even tougher.

The good news: M-DCPS students and staff are up to the challenge, as our track record proves. Student performance is up by several measures, and so are operational efficiencies.

The not-so-good news: Our chances of extending these gains diminish with every funding shortfall. We’ve run a five-year marathon on shrinking fuel, and we’ve done it with astonishing skill and speed, but we’re getting closer and closer to hitting the wall. How do we break through?

MARSHALING OUR RESOURCES

We do it by marshaling our resources: human, capital, and otherwise. The School Board’s 2012-13 budget saves some $60 million, preserves teachers’ jobs, and protects elective classes for students, with cuts coming mostly from a restructuring of non school departments – bringing the four-year reduction of central administration to 55% — and an adoption of the state’s mandated virtual school expansion in senior high schools. At the same time, taxpayers will see a slightly lower tax rate. Increased property values, however, will nevertheless push up the tax bill for the typical homeowner.

This budget is student-driven, the district’s workforce and operations timeand battle-tested, and our new initiatives forward-looking. All are targeted to continue promoting student performance and improving both effectiveness and efficiency.

MORE CHOICE, MORE RIGOR

To boost the number, scope, and accessibility of our academic offerings, we are introducing 36 new magnet and other choice programs throughout the county this year, from a science, technology, engineering, and math academy at Ben Sheppard Elementary in Hialeah to cutting-edge iPrep academies at four high schools across the community. For more information, visit choice.dadeschools.net.

DIGITAL CONVERGENCE, DIGITAL CONVERSION

As technologies and technological industries converge, we must prepare our students to keep up and get ahead. Toward that end, every M-DCPS high school starts this school year with Wi-Fi connectivity hot spots in all of our high schools. Pending approval for our federal e-rate applications, we plan to connect every school by 2013.

LEANER, SMARTER OPERATIONS

We know what works. Whether tailoring instruction to meet each student’s needs and abilities, or maximizing operational effectiveness and efficiency, we’ve got the goods. This year we are capitalizing on our strengths as never before, by giving our top principals greater autonomy over their schools and by marketing our most innovative and successful academic programs and business practices to other schools and districts.

21ST CENTURY SCHOOLS

Students today must be prepared to succeed in a world very different from the one that existed just 20 years ago. Therein lies perhaps our biggest challenge. With billions in capital-funding cuts, aging and crumbling buildings, a huge maintenance backlog, and technological advances as fast as our imaginations, how do we upgrade our school facilities to meet the urgent needs of our students now in the years ahead?

We’re doing it by asking voters November 6th to authorize the issuance of $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds, taking advantage of a rare convergence of conditions—the retiring of the 1988 school bond issue, historically-low borrowing rates, and low construction costs— to give every student a safe, technologicallyadvanced, and comfortable learning environment for generations to come. I’ll be reaching out to business and community leaders in the weeks ahead on how to help us in this crucial endeavor.

For more information in the meantime, visit  www.bondsforschools.dadeschools.net

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