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Despite tight finances, Miami-Dade wins education honor

Despite tight finances, Miami-Dade wins education honor

The key task for Florida's Miami-Dade County Public Schools system these days is fulfilling its mission of providing the highest quality education to its students while operating on a tighter budget.

That's a mission that Scott B. Clark, risk and benefits officer of the school system and a member of the 2007 Business Insurance Risk Management Honor Roll, takes seriously.

The school district, which says it's the fourth-largest district in the United States, provided educational services to 361,550 children in the 2005-06 school year, down from 365,784 in 2004-05. The decrease in enrollment has reduced funding to Florida's largest school district from the state government, which contributed about $1.5 billion of the district's $5.7 billion in revenue during the 2005-06 school year.

In 2004, a modification to the public school funding formula made by the Florida Legislature resulted in a loss of millions of dollars to districts such as Miami-Dade County. The decreased funding has made it difficult for the district to adequately pay for health care services and educational programs while expenses such as transportation and fuel costs have skyrocketed.

The district employs almost 50,000 full-time and part-time employees, providing benefits at a cost of about $300 million per year. In addition, a need for more teachers and schools is being driven by a government mandate regarding maximum class sizes that requires the district to reduce the average number of students in each classroom by at least two students a year until certain targets are reached in 2010.

"These budgetary demands and constraints, coupled with the substantial changes that must occur to raise student achievement, create the need for additional focus on diversifying revenue sources and increasing the inflow of funds," the district said in report outlining the organization's strategic plan for the future of the school system.

Urban education prize

The school district was recently named one of five finalists for the $1 million annual Broad Prize for Urban Education, which recognizes urban school districts that demonstrate the highest comprehensive performance and student achievement improvement, in addition to reducing the achievement gap among ethnic groups and high- and low-income children.

In 2006, 73% of Miami-Dade schools earned an A or B accountability grade, which measures a school's success or failure in meeting state educational requirements. Students in nearly every grade achieved significant academic gains in the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test of reading and math. The test is part of Florida's plan to increase student achievement by implementing higher standards for teaching and learning.