MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The United Teachers of Dade are ready to teach Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez a lesson, over what they are calling "mayoral malpractice."
"You can't be the strong mayor when it suits you, and be a weak mayor for schools and children," fired the union's attorney, Mark Richard.
The teacher's union filed a lawsuit Friday, blaming Gimenez for funding problems in public schools.
"The ones that are being affected are our children – our most vulnerable children in this community," said teacher and parent Karla Hernandez-Mats.
The union accuses Gimenez of failing to adequately fund the property appraiser's office in his budget. It's a move they say has led to $171 million delayed or even lost from property taxes in the past seven years.
The money the union is talking about are the tax dollars tied up in the system. When homeowners and commercial property owners appeal their property tax assessments to the county's Value Adjustment Board, there is a backlog of thousands of appeals. This means that tax money is tied up and may ultimately be reduced.
The mayor's spokesman Mike Hernandez agrees the property appraiser's office is behind schedule. But he said the appeals process is not under his purview and that he's done what he can to help.
"Every single time they have asked us to allocate more funding, not just to the property appraiser's office, but also to the clerk of the board, we have done it. Furthermore we have been open to helping them however we can," Hernandez told CBS4's Natalia Zea.
Accusing the union of using this lawsuit to play politics, the mayor's office insists the teacher's union is laying blame in the wrong place.
"This is a frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit and frankly they need to also understand how civics works," said Hernandez.
Miami Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho released a statement on the issue.
Beyond the legal issue at hand, we need to recognize the crisis-like conditions created by the well-known property tax collection shortfall which last year reached $60 million. We must acknowledge that the funding equity promised to students and teachers across the State is not realized in Miami-Dade. This inequity deprives our community of the same level of funding and educational opportunities that students and teachers across the State receive. Our legislative leaders in Tallahassee have acknowledged this problem and have provided temporary and partial solutions, but the true long-term fix is a local one.
The mayor has promised to meet with the superintendent and the property appraiser's office to see what else can be done to recover those millions of tax dollars and put them in our schools.
As for who will pay the mayor's legal fees, the answer is Miami-Dade taxpayers. The county's attorney will represent Gimenez to fight this lawsuit.
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