Sunday , 21 December 2014
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Higher Learning

When students start the 2013/2014 school year, the Norman S. Edelcup/Sunny Isles Beach K-8 School will be taking learning to a higher level – literally. New levels will soon be added to the existing school building to accommodate 12 new classrooms and roof deck. The Sunny Isles Beach City Commission approved the expansion project to alleviate student overcrowding and allow for the reopening of art and music rooms.

According to a December 2011 memo from the City Manager to the Commission, “Since the Norman S. Edelcup Sunny Isles Beach K-8 opened a few years ago, the student enrollment numbers have far exceeded projections. Due to the increase of student numbers beyond the capacity of the originally designated classroom configuration, art and music rooms have been converted to regular classrooms.

“In order to ensure that all children legally residing in the geographic area served by the school can both attend the school and receive a comprehensive education that includes art and music classes, the number of classrooms in the school needs to be increased to accommodate a higher number of students. The agreement [between the City of Sunny Isles Beach and Miami-Dade School District] contains a cost-sharing arrangement in which the city is committing up to $2 million for this expansion project. If the project cost exceeds $4 million dollars, the school district will absorb the additional costs.”

In February of this year, Vice Mayor Lewis Thaler wrote a column for the Sunny Isles Beach Sun explaining, “The City of Sunny Isles Beach is lending Miami-Dade County Schools $4 million to expand the school, of which only $2 million dollars will be paid back over ten years. The remaining $2 million dollars will be a donation to the school district from the city.”

At the Oct. 18, 2012 City Commission meeting, a presentation was made by architects and contractors providing an overview of the school addition, which will help accommodate increasing enrollment from 1,640 to about 1900 students by the 2013/14 school year. Construction is currently slated to commence in December.

Mike Geary, executive vice president of Pirtle Construction, noted, “We’ve been in South Florida since 1968 and have built over 350 schools – many with Miami-Dade Public Schools. We assure you that safety is paramount to us and we’re very familiar with working in occupied schools…We’ll be communicating with your school principal and city staff [on issues such as] signage, dust and noise control.”

Dr. Annette Weissman, principal of the Norman S. Edelcup/Sunny Isles Beach K-8 School, who was present at the meeting, recently wrote a column in the Sunny Isles Beach Sun proudly announcing, “For the fourth straight year, [our school] received an ‘A’ grade from the State of Florida. Accomplishing our goals was a cooperative effort of the hard working, dedicated staff, the involved parents, and the supportive community all focused on the goal of academic excellence for all children…It takes a village and NSE/SIB K-8 is fortunate to have a caring, committed village of individuals who are willing to work in unison for the benefit of all.”

‘GO FOR GO BOND’

During the Oct. 18 City Commission meeting, a presentation regarding the General Obligation bond appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot was made by Miami-Dade Public Schools Chief Facilities Officer Jaime Torrens.

“The [Miami-Dade] School District has placed on the November ballot a $1.2 billion General Obligation (GO) bond for improvements and technology upgrades in all of our [school] facilities,” Torrens explained. “This new GO bond would provide a long-term solution to the facilities needs in Miami-Dade County, which are many. The GO Bond will also provide continuation of bonds issued in 1988 that will be sunsetting in 2017; and be a financing/funding vehicle to continue improving our schools and updating all of our campuses throughout the district.

“The financing is a 30-year financing plan. The key to this is it would provide funding and financing from investors outside of the local area infusing capital into our community for both generation of jobs and improvement of our schools.”

Torrens noted categories of work included would involve renovation of older campuses, replacement of some buildings, and technology improvements. “It’s crucial for students to have access to these resources in order to receive top notch education,” he said. “It’s also important for capacity projects to accommodate growth areas in Miami-Dade. There have not been any major renovation efforts since 1988 when the last GO bond was approved by voters in Miami-Dade, so the recent focus has been on capacity.

“Between class size compliance and growth in population since 1988, we added about 105,000 student stations over the last six or seven years – this is evidenced by one of the projects being [the school built in Sunny Isles Beach]. Even though the class size amendment was passed by the state, Miami-Dade never received its share of funding for class size compliance, so essentially, we had to use local revenue that would have otherwise gone to renovate many of our buildings to comply with class size. It was determined no solution [other than the GO bond] could address the district’s capital needs.

“[Reasons for putting the GO bond on the ballot now] relate to today’s historic lows in interest rates in financial markets and a decline in construction costs…Every year we wait, the facility needs continue to grow and the cost isn’t going to get any lower.”

According to an Oct. 21 Miami Herald article, “For the first year, 2013, homeowners would pay $5 per $100,000 of assessed value for the new bond, in addition to the $23 for every $100,000 of assessed value for the existing one, which ends in 2017. For the full term of the new program, a homeowner would pay an average of $27 for every $100,000 of assessed value, up to the maximum of $35.”

Reiterating “guiding principles” of the GO bond, Torrens said, “We want to enhance the safety and security of all campuses ensuring teachers and students have safe and appropriate spaces in which to educate our students. Every school will be upgraded or renovated and technology equity will be guaranteed throughout the district…There will also be transparency. An oversight committee of local citizens will review plans to make sure the commitments made are kept to the community and that the financing is audited on a regular basis.”

Addressing issues of specific concern to Sunny Isles Beach, Torrens said, “As of September of this year, we had almost 2,400 students from Sunny Isles Beach attending Miami-Dade County Public Schools…There are [improvements] contemplated in each one of the schools Sunny Isles Beach students attend. Even in the newer schools, there will be technology upgrades throughout the course of this bond program because this is a long-term, 30-year financing plan with about a seven to eight year implementation.”

At the conclusion of Torrens presentation, on behalf of the City Commission, Mayor Norman S. Edelcup noted, “This is an important issue that will be on the ballot…we recommend people vote in favor of [this bond] because there is nothing more important than the education of the children because they’re the future of this city, state and country.”

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