Superintendent Plans Revamp of Miami-Dade School Construction

Published February 1, 2005

In his first few months as the new superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Rudolph F. “Rudy” Crew negotiated a new contract with the local teacher union, revised the district’s budget process, eliminated more than 700 noninstructional positions, established a School Improvement Zone to take control of 39 chronically failing schools, and almost tripled–to 15,000–the number of new student stations planned for the start of next school year.

Crew faced what was likely to be his most critical audience in late November when he presented his plans for school construction to the state oversight panel for the district’s construction programs–the Miami-Dade School District Land Advisory and Facilities Maintenance Operations Board. Seeking to eliminate portable classrooms and overcrowding by 2010, the plans call for $1.37 billion for building 47 new schools and 22 additions, $1.60 billion for renovating and improving existing schools, and $130 million for educational enhancements. As Crew noted in a subsequent message to the school board, the estimated $3.1 billion required to implement the plan “greatly exceeds current capital allocations,” meaning a bond issue would be required.

The oversight panel, which has the authority to withhold state construction funds from the district, was appointed by the Florida legislature in 2001, following revelations of scandals in district land purchases and revelations from then-Surfside Mayor Paul Novack of severe but persistently ignored fire safety hazards in district schools. Novack is a member of the oversight panel.

Skepticism Remains

According to a November 23, 2004 Miami Herald account, Crew’s plans were well-received by members of the oversight board, including panel chairman Ed Easton, a Dade County real estate developer.

“I’m a great cheerleader for what you’re trying to accomplish,” Easton told Crew, according to the Herald. “Someday I hope we can lead the cheerleading for a new bond issue.”

However, panel member Novack said any talk about a bond issue was “premature at best.” He said the district already has $1.5 billion available to build new schools and also receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the state every year in Public Education Capital Outlay funds.

“Why not prove that they can use [that money] wisely, efficiently, and productively, before even considering any alleged need for more money?” Novack asked. “They are still a long way off in terms of accountability and productivity.”

In a December 19 letter in the Miami Herald, Easton said he believed district schools in the future will be built “faster, cheaper, and of better quality.” But while he was clearly enthused with “great expectation that reform is on the way,” his support of a new bond issue appeared no less conditional than Novack’s.

“If I had one dream it would be to build schools in 24 months or less for $125 a square foot and maintain them consistently for $7 a square foot. The public should get a dollar’s worth for every dollar invested,” wrote Easton. “With that accomplished, I could stand behind the school district for a bond issue to build new schools and address the deficiencies in existing schools.”

Audits Raising Worries

Two recent audits of the Miami-Dade district show the scope of the district’s recent construction and maintenance problems.

A November 2004 report from State Auditor General William O. Monroe addressed the district’s capital construction funding activities. The report’s findings related directly to the productivity and accountability issues raised by Easton and Novack.

For example, three findings described unacceptable delays in initiating and completing construction work:

  • The completion of 25 of 30 selected construction projects totaling $173 million was delayed by an average of 284 days, with one project coming in 1,057 days late. For 18 of the projects, the average cost-overrun was more than $400,000 per project, with the largest overrun topping $3 million.
  • Funds for eight projects to carry out specific renovations and remodeling work–i.e., projects where proceeds should be expended quickly–still had more than 70 percent of their funds unspent almost two-and-a-half years after the funds were allocated.
  • Over a three-year period, the district’s average actual expenditures on capital construction projects were only 37 percent of its average budgeted expenditures.

The state audit also found the district’s procedures for tracking expenditures on construction projects to be flawed by inaccurate identification of programs or projects and inaccurate allocation of salaries to construction projects. In addition, reports did not provide “meaningful and useful information” to the school board or district management.

“[C]omparison of the actual or revised estimated costs of individual construction projects to the original budgeted costs was not practicable and readily available for the Board or management,” wrote Monroe. “Additionally, management reports to the Board and other stakeholders did not show a comparison of the actual or projected completion dates to the original estimated dates for individual construction projects.”

District Taking Action

According to Crew, the district already was aware of many of the observations in the audit report and was taking actions to address them. “A significant reorganization and restructuring of Facilities Management and Construction is in the works” to “strengthen project management, improve accountability, and provide effective leadership,” he said.

In April 2004, an independent audit of the Miami-Dade school district’s construction department was conducted at the request of the oversight board. The findings were so serious that the auditors, Lewis B. Freeman & Partners, recommended the appointment of a special prosecutor and statewide grand jury to investigate the district’s multibillion-dollar Facilities Construction Department, alleging massive disorganization and waste.

District officials disputed the April 28 Forensic Audit Report, arguing the auditors’ claims were unsubstantiated. Auditors said the district had not provided a complete set of records to document how and where construction funds were distributed.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is associate editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

The November 2004 Operational Audit by Auditor General William O. Monroe, “Miami-Dade County District School Board–Capital Construction Funding Activities: Report No. 2005-074,” is available online at

The June 2004 School Reform News article by Lisa Snell, “Audit Charges $100 Million Fraud in Miami-Dade Schools,” provides additional information on the Miami-Dade Public Schools construction problems. It is available online at

Former Surfside Mayor Paul Novack described problems with Miami-Dade public school construction and maintenance in an April 2003 School Reform News interview, “A Merry-Go-Round of Irresponsibility,”