The superintendent of schools in the Miami district said Friday that he isn't hearing any negative feedback on a proposed $4.19 million bond issue set for public vote on Nov. 13.
If passed, the bond issue would fund construction of an 1,800-seat gymnasium, a band room, a choral room, an art room, a lecture hall and two conference rooms in a single building planned for construction at the district's high school.
But, Bill Stephens admitted that he growing nervous as election day draws near.
Stephens said he can bank on the 700 to 900 voters in the school district who faithfully vote “no” when faced with a tax increase. So, according to Stephens, winning the favor of the voters will begin with a supportive voter turnout strong enough to gain a super majority of 60 percent.
“For every “no” vote received, there has to be two “yes” votes cast,” Stephens said.
It won't be an easy win - it historically never is in Miami, according to Stephens. But, it is an important win, he said.
If voters approve the proposed project, three of Miami High School's ancillary programs will be poised for what Stephens said could be “substantial” growth as they will have room to flourish.
Band and chorus programs will be moved into acoustical rehearsal rooms, freeing existing space for the wrestling program which has never had access to the area that was designed for wrestlers nearly 40 years ago.
Additionally, removing the band and chorus programs from the basement level and into the new facility will resolve a potentially litigable situation as the sub-level rooms are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to Stephens, when the school was built in the late 1960s, funding fell short to complete construction and administrators opted to remove the band and choir rooms from the design and moved the programs into the wrestling area.
Art students will have an expanded work area and a kiln room.
The FFA and the technical education programs will also see increased and more efficient work space in their existing facilities as space restrictions will be lifted.
One of the most talked-about benefits of the proposed construction is bringing competitive basketball to the Wardog campus.
Stephens said the school plans to still utilize the Miami Civic Center basketball court as a practice site - giving both the girls and boys basketball programs separate practice facilities and effectively doubling their practice time.
The facility will include 400 seat-back chairs, concession stand, trainer and video rooms and boys and girls locker rooms.
“It is a good bond issue,” Stephens said. “But, the question is, will the people understand? … The problem with an educational bond issue is that people drive by a facility and say ‘It looks fine to me … looks just like it did when I graduated from high school.' What they don't see is the inside.”
Stephens said the changing needs of school districts over the last four decades does take its toll. There are more programs, more tools and more demands than ever before.
Through the last seven years, the Miami School District has worked through a long-range plan of school improvement. It started with the Will Rogers Middle School renovations in 2001. In 2004, the district directed its attention to repairing elementary schools and putting kindergarten classrooms back into the neighborhood school concept.
“Now, it is the high school's turn,” Stephens said. “It is a big request … but, it is our biggest project.”
The Nov. 13 ballot proposal will be the biggest bond issue request since Stephens came on board.
If passed, residents within the Miami School District will see their millage rate increase from 4.79 mills to an estimated 12.84 mills. The increase, according to school officials, will mean an estimated $9.12 a year in additional property tax for each $100 currently paid.
The district is supplemented by state and federal dollars to assist in the operation of the school, according to Stephens. Through the existing millage, the district contributes about 15 percent of the operational costs. However, the cost of constructing a school facility must be fully funded by local efforts.
“We have an opportunity for our schools to really step forward. I am proud of what has been done here in seven years,” Stephens said at a recent political breakfast forum. “We have really invested in our schools the very maximum that we can without a bond issue.”
It has been three years since the district put a bond issue before its residents. Voters approved a $1.3 million bond issued in 2004 to improve the district's elementary schools.
“I hear people say ‘it is something that has been needed for a long time,'” Stephens said. “My question is - are they willing to pay for it? When it comes to the local funding of the school it is a local issue and a local responsibility.”