November 23, 2014

Schools: How Much Oversight? Miami-Dade- June 2003

David Villano | 6/1/2003
In 2001, the state Legislature created an independent oversight board of business professionals to monitor land acquisitions by the Miami-Dade School District. The move came after media reports revealed that the district routinely paid inflated prices for land for new schools. Embarrassed district officials and the county's elected Miami-Dade School Board members welcomed the move.

But the relationship between the oversight board and the school board has deteriorated. Over the past two years, the Legislature expanded the scope of the six-member oversight group's mission to include school procurement, maintenance, construction and transportation. And the board has repeatedly characterized the district as hopelessly inept.

Last March, oversight board Chairman Edward Easton, a Miami real estate developer, told legislators he holds little hope that Miami-Dade's school district can fix itself. "The waste within the system is far more than we ever expected," says Easton.

Easton is asking the Legislature to create a far more powerful oversight board with direct authority over most noneducational functions -- land purchases, construction and maintenance, for example -- essentially usurping the school board's power.

Gov. Jeb Bush has indicated he will support the measure.

The recommendation has outraged school board members and district officials. Critics describe the move as a political power grab -- oversight board members are all GOP appointees; the Miami-Dade School Board is predominately Democrat. Others say it is yet another example of Tallahassee interfering in Miami-Dade's local affairs.

Local leaders say school Superintendent Merrett Stierheim, a highly regarded municipal trouble-shooter ["Miami's Mr. Fix-It," November 2002, FloridaTrend.com], should be given time to reinvent the district from within.

Politics or not, the nation's fourth-largest school district remains bloated and scandal-prone. Earlier this year the Miami Herald documented tens of millions of dollars in waste within the district's construction and maintenance departments. A report by the Florida auditor general has reached similar conclusions.

The oversight board's recommendations start with transferring management of many business functions to the proposed state board. Last year, the oversight board began a push to privatize many of the district's maintenance functions; it also believes the district should be split into smaller, more manageable districts. Meanwhile, the Legislature is withholding about $50 million for school construction until the oversight board is satisfied with the pace and direction of reform.

"My dream is to create a little bit of success, something that we can build upon," says Easton.

IN THE NEWS

Coral Gables -- The University of Miami has announced plans to build a new home for its School of Architecture after raising $6 million for the project. The school has established an international reputation for advancing the principles of New Urbanism.

Miami -- Baptist Health South Florida ranked 84th in Fortune magazine's annual list of America's best companies to work for. The rankings are based on employee surveys and an evaluation of company benefits.

The Netherlands has established a Consulate General office in Miami, joining five other European nations -- France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom -- with full-time consular delegations in the county.

A unit of Shell Oil Co. has opened a Latin American advisory services office in Miami, creating about 30 jobs.

Despite a slowdown in the cruise industry, a new startup cruise ship operator will make its home in Miami. Oceania Cruises will lease two 684-passenger luxury ships for 10- and 16-day cruises in the Baltic and Mediterranean.

Shareholders have approved a much-anticipated deal for Miami-based Carnival Corp. (NYSE-CCL) to acquire London-based cruise operator P&O Princess. With the merger, Carnival will solidify its ranking as the world's largest cruise line, dwarfing its next-largest competitor, Royal Caribbean International. The deal is worth about $8.2 billion in stock and debt acquisition.

Citing a need to reduce costs, Commodore Aviation will relocate from Miami International Airport to Rome, N.Y. The aircraft maintenance provider employs about 350 in Miami, most of whom will be offered relocation opportunities in New York. Meanwhile, beleaguered American Airlines has axed 74 mechanics positions at Miami International Airport as part of a nationwide layoff caused by a reduction in its fleet.

Computer hardware maker Nexland (OTC-XLND) has agreed to be acquired by Cupertino, Calif.-based Symantec for about $22 million. Executives for Miami-based Nexland, which makes routers and modems, do not expect any layoffs among its staff of 25.

El Dorado Furniture received the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Cutting Edge Award for business excellence. The 36-year-old company is one of the nation's largest Hispanic-owned retailers with revenue of $124 million last year and more than 700 employees.

National Healthcare Staffing, a new healthcare employee leasing company, has opened in Miami, promising to create about 125 jobs over the next three years.

Miami is the fifth-best college town in the U.S., according to the Princeton Review's annual guide to top colleges. The rankings, which are based on student surveys nationwide, place Miami just behind New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Miami-Dade -- Alpharetta, Ga.-based Siemens Energy & Automation will close its south Miami-Dade manufacturing facility, laying off about 130 workers.

A month after choosing Miami as its permanent headquarters, the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has selected Miami-Dade as host for this year's Latin Grammy Awards in September. Two years ago, the event was withdrawn after Cuban exile groups objected to plans for Cuban-based artists to attend the ceremony.

Development
CONDO BOOM

MIAMI -- With construction under way on the long-awaited Performing Arts Center in downtown Miami, plans have been announced for two more high-rise condo towers -- called Metropolis on the Bay -- adjacent to the project. The towers, near the failed Omni Mall, would bring to six the number of condo towers planned for the area.

Tags: Miami-Dade

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