MIAMI, OK–Voters are being asked to support one of the biggest changes in history to the Miami Public School system.
Miami voters in the Miami Public School District are being asked to vote for a bond proposal on March 3 for $22.7 million in improvements to the high school and middle school and for a new lower elementary building to be constructed. The changes are being requested to offer greater educational services, and more secure and safer buildings with safe rooms for the entire student and staff population at each school and enclosed secure walkways and entries.
“Safety of our students is always our main concern,” Robinson said. “We want to do everything we can to make that possible.”
The biggest change to the district being proposed is the unification of all elementary students from five traditional “neighborhood schools” into two buildings separating students into lower and upper elementary facilities.
With a mill increase to property taxes of 22.71 percent requested for every $100 the annual increase would be a raise of $22.71 or a $1.89 monthly increase for property owners in the MPS voting district.
Miami Public Schools system currently has $60 million net assessed value with a sinking fund milage of 9.85 percent bringing in revenue of only $600,000, much lower then comparable districts.
“One of the things we looked at as a district was how do we plan to do things more efficiently to be more effective and as you know the A to F Report Card has really made school districts dig deep,” MPS Superintendent Loretta Robinson said. “We started there with what do we do to improve learning for students.”
Robinson said the district started with reaching out to educators and site visits for input over a period of the last two years to determine how to improve education in the district. Feedback from teachers determined the importance of collaboration, team teaching and sharing resources.
“Instead of having two people to bounce ideas off of now there would be nine or 10 teachers,” Assistant Superintendent Randy Darr said. “The main difference people would see will be the interaction of the teachers.”
He said this consolidation would allow different ways for grouping students for instruction to learn specific educational skills.
The district has begun distributing fliers, holding question and answer sessions and offering public speaking presentations to gain support for the bond and the proposed changes using the plans created by TriArch Architects created for the district.
Robinson said community changes since the district's configuration makes “neighborhood schools” an obsolete concept.
“If you look at schools in Oklahoma we are one of the few districts to keep this configuration,”she said.
To improve learning, and avoid several transitions for students Robinson said the teachers, staff, the school board and different community groups looked at all possible options before choosing this specific option of unifying the elementary grades into two facilities.
“As a lay person who spent 50 years in education, the thing that jumps off the page to me is safety,” a former educator and steering committee member John Lomax said. “That in itself is enough for me to support it. Aside from the educational research that says this is the way to increase the quality of student education.”
“We're really getting a great bang for the buck here, three main things safety, security and better education,” Darr said.
District student allocation at the elementary sites population percentages indicates the truth of this with 50 percent of Nichols Elementary School students, 47 percent of Rockdale Elementary students, 58 percent of Roosevelt Elementary students, 49 percent of Washington Elementary students, and 58 percent of Wilson Elementary within school boundaries.
With an average 190 students per grade a minimum of 10 classrooms are needed for each grade level. The two new buildings for elementary grade students would allow for an average of 725 square feet classrooms and a primary class size of 20 students for every teacher. Additional Pre-Kindergarten classrooms would be added offering classes to 200 four-year-old students.
Robinson said the City of Miami is working with the district to improve traffic flow and drainage issues in the area at the Nichols Elementary site, where the lower and elementary buildings would be located to serve the changed facilities.
The existing unused buildings would be surplussed and sold or used, such as repurposing the Roosevelt building to house administrative offices and an education service center. The goal is to sell the unused properties and to remove those left vacant to allow for future development.
Changes to Miami High School and Will Rogers Middle School would include safe rooms, secure entrances and indoor connecting corridors. The bond also funds a 8,500 square foot multipurpose building with classrooms for WRMS. The high school receives an updated media center and new $1.2 million sloped roof.
The consensus of the MPS administration and board was, though other options were looked at for improving each individual existing elementary site and to build a new middle school, the only option possible with available bond capacity was the one chosen.
“We could not generate enough revenue,” Robinson said of the other reviewed options.
Darr said WRMS was found to be structurally sound.
“You just can't build a new building with the same structural integrity of the middle school with the funds available,” Lomax said.
Because the district will continue to educate at least the same number of students, with additional Pre-K students, there are no plans to decrease teaching or support staff according to Robinson.
This month's efforts from MPS have focused on voter registration with each school site holding voter registration events and raising awareness about the bond issue.
With improved educational opportunities and facilities the hope is the changes will help economic development in the community and also help the district be more competitive in attracting teachers.
Lomax said progressive school districts and the quality of life offered are some of the first things employers look for when locating in a community.
“We want to be part of revitalizing and building Miami,” Robinson said. “ On the emotional part , I've lived here all my life. I went to Wilson Elementary and graduated from the high school and my children all went to Rockdale and I have a grandchild there now, so I do understand that aspect of it. I also want what's best for this community and want Miami to be a thriving community and for us to have a very strong educational system.”
By Melinda Stotts, Miami News Herald