The Oxford School District is preparing for an increase in students the coming school year.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, the district proposed a bond referendum for fall 2017 to build a new elementary school, which will house new first and second grade classrooms.
A bond referendum gives voters the ability to decide if a municipality should be authorized to raise funds through the sale of bonds.
Superintendent Brian Harvey said the meeting allowed the community an opportunity to comment.
“Oxford is growing. The community is growing. The county is growing,” Harvey said. “When you drive around town, it seems almost daily that there are things that weren’t there three months ago, particularly in the Oxford School District.”
Harvey said the board is searching for ways to address large class sizes and has discussed solutions since November 2015, which was the first time space and growth issues were brought up at a board meeting.
“What we’ve looked at and talked about is a school of about 750 students, which is about a 150 more than Oxford Elementary can take right now, which will allow for growth in that area,” Harvey said.
Eventually, the district will have to address possible expansion at Della Davidson Elementary, as well, Harvey said.
The Oxford Elementary administration would be moved to the new school, alleviating the need to hire new administration. Oxford Elementary would become a central office.
“We’re actually being more efficient, not less efficient,” Harvey said.
He said the district has not made strong commitments to the bond referendum yet.
“No money has been spent, and no obligation has been made to any kind of bond referendum,” Harvey continued. “No district money has been spent.”
The site of the new elementary school will be considered based on cost, utilities, vehicular access and environmental conditions. The assessments are expected to be finished by the next meeting on May 1.
Oxford parent Susie Adams expressed concern over the issue of adding a performing arts building to Oxford High School that was taken out of consideration.
Harvey said the performing arts building was part of the plan, but it turned out that there were not sufficient funds.
“I think it’s going to make it hard to get bond issue passed because so many people voted for the last one thinking that part of it was a performing arts building, and it wasn’t, so I think that there’s a trust issue,” Adams said.
“There’s only so many dollars out there,” Harvey said. “I wish we could do everything and lower the classroom sizes to 17 to one and offer full-functioning pre-K for every student, but the way the dollars are, that’s just not going to happen.”
The federal government’s Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act reduces class sizes to 17 or 18 students per teacher. Harvey said that the Oxford School District simply doesn’t have room to get class sizes down that low.
Based on student enrollment projections, the Oxford School District will have nearly 4,300 students next year and by the school year of 2019-2020 could increase to up to around 4,500.
Harvey said the district considered four options to handle Oxford’s growing student population. In the past, the board discussed restructuring schools’ grade level systems. The district dismissed this option because it only addressed the space issue, not the growth issue, and is not sustainable in the long-run.
Harvey said the concerns about zoning are valid and will not be taken lightly. He said Oxford is not growing rapidly enough to need immediate zoning.
“If we were growing like the southern county was growing five years ago, absolutely [zoning] would be the thing to do,” Harvey said. “But we’re not quite growing that fast, and that’s what makes the decision about zoning and what to do that much harder.”
An audience member pointed out that if steady growth in Oxford continues, zoning will eventually be inevitable down the road.
Harvey said he thinks a new elementary school would delay zoning for the next 10-15 years.
Oxford is fortunate, Harvey said, because people are moving here and bringing economic growth, so there will be more money to address more issues.
Harvey said he wishes more of the public would have shown up for the meeting and encourages community members to come to future meetings and provide feedback.
“It’s not my school,” Harvey said. “It is the community’s school, and we need everyone’s input.”