One of Miami-Dade’s smoothest politicians just might persuade tax-weary voters to OK a $1.2 billion bond issue to finance school and technology upgrades, repaid with property taxes.
And he’s not even elected.
For many voters and local politicians, their support of the bond boils down to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and his record managing the nation’s fourth-largest school district.
“The superintendent is, in essence, the public face and the candidate,” said Fernand Amandi, a political consultant. “He’s leveraging his record and the trust he’s built with the community and his job rating to secure passage … The bond issue is, yes, for the schools, but the driving force of it is Superintendent Carvalho.”
The bond is likely to pass, according to a recent poll for The Miami Herald. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez have endorsed the measure.
Carvalho said it’s not about him, but the “face of countless children.”
But if the bond passes, whither Carvalho?
“The natural next step would be to look for an opportunity for leadership whether it’s in this community or in some other capacity,” Amandi said.
Many parents and observers know Carvalho could move to the national education stage or try for political office. He declined last year to apply for a position with the U.S. Department of Education. His name has been polled as a candidate for county mayor and had “very high” approval rating, said School Board member Carlos Curbelo.
A win on the bond would add to other coups: balancing the budget in lean times, unifying a formerly acrimonious board and winning the Broad Prize, the nation’s top education award.
Carvalho maintains he will stay as schools chief until he achieves four big goals, including a 100 percent graduation rate and erasing the digital divide. He said he is not envisioning a political run “at this point.”
“I know folks have polled my name. If I had wanted to leverage that I would have done it,” he said. “When folks are planning their next big step because they’ve accumulated a number of successes, they are dooming the progress and sustainability of reform efforts they have achieved, and I’m not about to do that.”
Carvalho, 48, built his career in Miami-Dade, rising from science teacher to schools chief, working as a lobbyist along the way.
Born in Lisbon, Portugal, Carvalho left at age 17 and went to Fort Lauderdale, with little money, knowing little English.
He worked construction, cooked and waited tables to pay for classes at Broward Community College. In 1988, he enrolled at Barry University on a premed track. But after landing a teaching job at Miami Jackson Senior High, he never left education.
Carvalho became superintendent in 2008, and his $275,000 annual contract extends to 2015. That would be longer than the average superintendent’s tenure of five to six years, according to a 2007 study by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration.
One controversy on his record is from 2008. Quickly after the School Board ousted his boss, Rudy Crew, the board selected him in a divided vote 5-3 to fill in. Carvalho, who had a competing offer from Pinellas County, said he would not accept a temporary post.
Days after he started, a series of emails surfaced implying a romantic relationship between the married Carvalho and the then-Miami Herald education reporter, Tania deLuzuriaga, which would have raised judgment and conflict-of-interest issues. Carvalho denied the allegations and district officials have said they could not authenticate the emails.