After peaking in enrollment about 10 years ago, the Miami-Dade County (Fla.) district, the nation’s fourth-largest school system, has seen its enrollment decline slightly for most of the last decade. The district had nearly 376,000 students in 2002-03, and now reports an enrollment of about 345,000.

But despite having to house fewer students, Miami-Dade County has had to add classrooms in the last decade. To meet statewide mandates for smaller class sizes, the district has added 100,000 in new student seats in the last seven years. At the same time, the school system’s existing facilities have continued to age. Of the Miami district’s more than 400 schools, nearly one-half are in building that are more than 40 years old; more than one-third are at least 50 years old.

“An inequity exists between the instructional experience of students attending newer schools and those in outdated buildings,” the district says. “To take full advantage of today’s technology and digital learning environments, aging schools must be replaced or updated to ensure all students have access to cutting-edge academic programming and modern safety and security measures.

To address those facility inequities, district officials have decided to ask voters, for the first time in 24 years, to approve a bond referendum. A $1.2 billion bond proposal will be on the November ballot. The money would enable the district to replace or renovate aging facilities at about 300 campuses in the district. Bond funds also would be used to improve technology throughout the system.

The improvements, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho says, “will give every student a safe, technologically advanced and comfortable learning environment.”

Because the economic recovery in South Florida has been slow, the school system would be able to take advantage of relatively slow construction costs if the bonds were approved, and would provide a boost to the area job market, according to an economic analysis of the bond proposal.

“Close to 18,500 jobs for Miami-Dade County residents are estimated to result from the capital projects that will be funded from the proposed (bond) issue,” says the analysis by the Washington Economics Group.

The previous bond election in the Miami school district was 1988, when voters approved a $980 million proposal.