School officials to have more say in zoning issues
By Sherri C. Ranta
School officials soon may have a louder voice in residential development decisions to control student population growth in Miami-Dade County.
Under a proposal, the school board would establish new criteria to evaluate projects for city and county governments based on impact on schools.
Builders and school officials reached an agreement on the controversial recommendation that, if approved by the school board, could give the district a non-binding voice on zoning and comprehensive land-use applications.
The Miami-Dade County Working Group on Public Schools Overcrowding Relief last week approved the recommendations to ease crowding in Miami-Dade - the nation's fourth-largest school district. The school board and the Board of County Commissioners are to receive the report this month from the group.
Marta Perez, co-chairwoman of the group, and the Builders Association of South Florida have clashed for several weeks over the controversial recommendation that could give school officials a voice on new residential developments.
The compromise states the school board "should establish policy, which includes the necessary criteria to allow staff to make recommendations on zoning and comprehensive plan amendment applications that impact public schools beyond the 115% utilization" of a state capacity formula.
"Stakeholders," the recommendation from the working group reads, "shall complete an in-depth analysis of the specific criteria to be considered by the school board prior to establishment of such policy and adoption of rules by the school board."
Miami-Dade officials, Ms. Perez said, should have the leeway, as does the Broward County school system, to make non-binding recommendations to county and city officials about zoning changes that would have adverse effects on already-crowded schools.
Builders and other stakeholders want a voice in how the school district will evaluate applications, said Truly Burton, spokeswoman for the builders association. The group wants to be sure it will not be forced to pay for 45,000 student workstations district officials say they need, she said. Developers pay millions in impact fees, donate land and build schools.
"Our shoulders aren't big enough to wipe out that deficit. That's the school board's deficit," she said.
The association, Ms. Burton said, continues to be concerned about relieving overcrowding in the schools and points to other recommendations in the working group's report, such as double sessions and redistricting.
"They (school board members) have been politically unwilling to do that," Ms. Burton said. "We've stepped up to the plate and have been doing it for the past 10 years. It's time for the school board to do the same thing."