The Biscayne Times

Jul 15th
Time to Reboot for November Elections PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
October 2018

School pay initiative should be top priority

TPix_JohnIse_10-18here’s a great scene in one of the early episodes of The Simpsons where Kent Brockman, the straitlaced newscaster, reports from Congress, which is debating a bill to save hometown Springfield from a hurtling meteorite.

The Speaker of the House calls the question to evacuate Springfield but is interrupted at the last minute by a pencil-necked politico who tacks on a rider to the bill to add “$30 million in support for the perverted arts.” The Save Springfield/Perverted Arts bill is unanimously voted down, leading an exasperated Brockman to exclaim, “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, democracy…it simply does not work.”

Reflecting on the elections of the ethically suspect state Sen. Daphne Campbell, Rep. Roy Hardemon, and even “the Donald,” I once thought Brockman might be on to something.

Thankfully, democracy, unlike autocracy, can self-correct and usually save itself from its own bad decisions. Faith in my fellow citizen was partially restored with the primary defeats of Campbell and Hardemon by the impressive duo of Jason Pizzo and Dotie Joseph.

Next month we re-engage with the civic duty of voting our destiny. The November elections will give us a new commission in Biscayne Park, a new council in El Portal, a new state legislature, new governor, a congressional delegation, and a slew of amendments to the state constitution.

The highly educated, sophisticated, and, let’s face it, good-looking readers of Biscayne Times already know plenty about the candidates for governor and U.S. Congress. But can you name the candidates for state commissioner of agriculture or attorney general? How many amendments to the state constitution are we voting on, and what do they propose (hint, there are 12, and some do multiple things -- one, for example, prohibits offshore oil drilling and indoor vaping).

Frankly, it’s all a bit confounding, but let’s keep it local.

El Portal, the tiny 0.42-square-mile village of 2300, will be electing a new village council. Of the five seats up for grabs, we have a whopping total of six candidates. That’s right, four of the five seats are uncontested, leaving the El Portal electorate to decide solely on council seat No. 1 between incumbent Werner Dreher and neighborhood activist Ibis Garcia.

Councilman Dreher, as chair of the Public Works Committee, touts his efforts to shift approximately 95 homes on the village’s western periphery from septic to sewer, as well as maintain the small-town charm of the village. Garcia seeks to call attention to the contamination of the Little River canal and emphasize services to the village’s west side, perceived as neglected.

Biscayne Park, on the other hand, will be selecting from five candidates for three at-large seats on the village commission. Manuel Espinoza, incumbent William Tudor, Daniel Samora, Jared Susi, and Laura “Betsy” Wise have thrown their respective hats into the ring. Say what you will about Biscayne Park politics, elections are consistently and robustly contested, albeit occasionally brass-knuckled and, dare I say it, at times surreal.

Arguably the most accessible candidate of the bunch has been Jared Susi, a village resident since 2012. Susi seeks an emphasis on strategic planning, financial discipline, and maintaining the character and charm of the village. Tudor, a resident since 2003, wants to focus on street and median infrastructure, traffic calming, and revenue diversification, and is open to revisiting the contentious idea of growing the village’s meager $2.4 million budget (and village boundaries) through annexation. Espinoza has a singular focus on village finances, seeking further efficiencies.

Samora emphasizes his background of running a small business in making a case for fiscal discipline, re-evaluating village code enforcement, and adamantly opposing annexation. Wise, a relative newcomer, offers herself as a calming bridgebuilder in a village where political engagement can be likened at times to being beaten with a barbed-wire baseball bat.

Beyond municipal elections, the most important vote that many of us aren’t aware of is the ballot measure known as Secure Our Future, put forward by Miami-Dade Public Schools (punch #362). The levy on property would raise $232 million annually, at a cost of approximately $0.39 per day to the typical homeowner, with those added monies being dedicated to teacher compensation (a boost in the neighborhood of double digits, to be negotiated by the school district and the teachers) and added school security.

The median teacher compensation for a teacher in the Miami-Dade public system hovers around $50,000. When this is juxtaposed with the median home price of $450,000, it’s easy to see why many teachers leave for greener career choices. The rental market paints an equally grim picture, with the fair-market rents for a local two-bedroom unit running easily over $1200 a month. Little wonder then that superintendent Alberto Carvalho has examined the possibility of the district building housing for teachers on school property.

Secure Our Future asks us the question of whether or not we see teaching as a respected profession, of vital importance to the community. If you have a modicum of professional success in your life, beyond your parents and close friends, to whom do you attribute that? Chances are, somewhere along the way, a teacher played a central role in shaping your success.

But compared with other careers, teaching scores poorly in compensation and consistently high in burnout. Teachers nationwide still abandon the profession at a high rate; half quit within the first five years.

Brad Sultz is a Miami Shores resident and public schoolteacher at the highly regarded iPrep Academy. He knows that many teachers have left for no other reason than low salaries and Miami’s high cost of living.

“If you’re young and starting out, you can’t afford to be a teacher in Miami-Dade County,” Sultz says. “My son has started the school year without two of his core teachers, and they can’t find quality people to replace these teachers because the salaries being offered are below standard.” Remember, iPrep is a coveted school for parents and teachers alike!

Arguably, there is no occupation more important than teaching. Yet too many of us sniff at the occupation and may even wonder why someone of high talent would “settle” for something compensated so poorly. But there is something fundamentally amiss when someone of high talent like Sultz says, “I’ve been teaching for 23 years, with a master’s degree. I’m nationally board-certified…a former district teacher-of-the-year finalist and runner-up, and I’m disheartened.”

It’s high time to put our money where our mouth is and support compensating our public schoolteachers with a living wage. Democracy is a kind of mirror for society to hold up and reflect its values and priorities.

Prove Kent Brockman wrong and make democracy work.


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