Published Online: October 15, 2003
Published in Print: October 15, 2003, as Urban Education

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Miami Divide

Breaking up may be hard to do, but a few South Florida mayors are angling for a chance to part ways with the Miami-Dade County school system.

At least four Dade County mayors are lobbying their counterparts in the county's other 30 municipalities to study divvying up the 362,000-student district and its $4.5 billion budget.

"We just want a greater voice and greater control of our schools," said Mayor David Dermer of Miami Beach, who also is the president of the Municipal Mayors' Association of Dade County.

During an association meeting this month, mayors were asked to seek approval from their city councils to endorse the study.

Any change in the governance structure of the nation's fourth-largest school system likely would need state legislative approval.

Mayor Dermer argues that smaller school districts would be more efficient and could be held more directly accountable by the communities they serve.

No decisions have been made about how the Miami-Dade district could be separated, Mr. Dermer said. The mayors will consider a number of models, he said, including seeking city council approval of school budgets.

Nationwide, mayors are forced to grapple with the public perception that city leaders run school systems, Mr. Dermer said. While the Miami Beach mayor said he's tried to interact more with the school district, that limited involvement falls short of his 100,000-resident community's expectations.

"There's the feeling that people in our city have very little input in the schools," Mr. Dermer said.

Mayco Villafana, a Miami-Dade schools spokesman, argued that larger districts are more efficient and effective because of the economies of scale. With a wide range of poor and affluent communities in the county, he added, some schools would undoubtedly receive less money than others.

For city leaders to think they can run the complex system along with complying with a myriad of federal and state education mandates is shortsighted, he said.

Acknowledging that some Miami-Dade mayors may be frustrated by the overall level of student achievement, Mr. Villafana said city leaders are ignoring that the district is making improvements.

"It can't be done overnight," he said of the school system's improvement efforts.

Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 23, Issue 7, Page 10

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