Report suggests closing four elementary schools due to enrollment, building conditions
By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
A recent study of Mid-Del Schools produced plenty of recommendations to improve district operations.
The school performance review was completed by the Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. The study was funded by the state and requested by the district to evaluate expenses, management strategies and education for children.
Superintendent Rick Cobb said the district takes the report seriously and have already started implementing many of the findings.
The report was initially presented to the school board during a June 15 special meeting. Cobb further discussed the report during the July 12 meeting.
Cobb focused on the “Top Eight” recommendations which addressed issues such as building maintenance, possible school closures, improving transparency, staffing and budget issues.
Elementary school closure
One of the most notable items included a recommendation to close four elementary schools. The report says many of the existing elementary schools are outdated and underutilized. The district was also advised to regularly assess the district facilities and create plans for maintenance and improvements.
Cobb agreed that the district needs to take a hard look at the facilities including possibly closing some elementary schools. He noted that even the district’s two newest elementary schools [Soldier Creek and Midwest City Elementary] are well below capacity.
“We have students going to school in schools that were built in the 50s and we have empty classrooms in schools that were built in this decade,” Cobb said. “So I think we need to look at how we can have more of our students in our best classroom space. I think that’s important.”
Cobb said they will take a careful approach towards school closures. He said they must consider whether students would be better served by closing schools, which schools are best candidates for closure, and a long-term use and maintenance plan for all district buildings.
The district plans to form an elementary stakeholder committee in August, complete a demographic study by the end of September and make a decision about any closures by December.
The study recommended that candidates for closure should include: Cleveland Bailey, Country Estates, Highland Park, Ridgecrest, Steed and Townsend.
Mid-Del Schools recently closed two of its middle schools (Del Crest and Jarman) as part of a consolidaton plan.
Another significant recommendation was to establish an administrative position to oversee diversity, equality and inclusion. Cobb said they have been looking to add that position but held off this spring due to financial uncertainty. The district will conduct diversity training this fall and post for a DEI director in March or April.
“I think it’s important with the makeup of our community and students that we are charged with educating that we do focus on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Cobb said. “I think that should always be part of the lens that we look for with hiring, with selecting instructional materials, with policy, with our student outcomes. And having someone that really applies that lens to everything we do would be good in the future.”
The study also suggests hiring more instructional technology specialists. Cobb said they have hired more technicians this year to help with the addition of new devices for all students, and said they will look to add more staff in the future.
Invest idle bond funds
The report also recommended that the district invest idle cash more aggressively. The district typically has a three-month gap between the time it receives and spends bond funds. The report suggests the district invest money during that time. It says that Jenks Public School had been earning over $300,000 per year by investing idle cash.
“We will definitely pursue the investments that we can while we can and Kay Medcalf [chief financial officer] has already been working on that,” Cobb said.
The report recommends the district improve its plan for instructional delivery. That includes professional learning communities, focus on Oklahoma Academic Standards, instructional coaches, teaching and learning teams and curriculum frameworks. Cobb said they have implemented many of those processes in the past but said they will continue improving.
Communication and transparency
The review team said the district should improve transparency and involve stakeholders in budget development. Cobb said they will invite parents, students, certified and support staff, administrators and community members to discus budget priorities, expected revenues and expenditures and changes to projections.
“They can bring questions in and talk about what they learned,” Cobb said. “It’s a good way to keep communication flowing back and forth.”
Cobb said they will consider similar stakeholder groups for technology, communications and marketing, facilities and bonds and others.
Child nutrition budget
The child nutrition program was also circled for improvement. The report said the program has been losing money due to staffing levels and fewer children eating meals at school. Cobb said much of the problems were caused by the pandemic. He said they are working to manage staffing levels, changing menus and better leveraging commodities.
“The best way to have a good bottom line in the child nutrition is to sell more food and have more students participating in the meal programs,” he said.
The final of the top eight recommendations concerned transportation. The report said the district should hire a consultant to improve routing to reduce student wait times, better align with start and end times at schools, improve driver attendance rates and decrease overtime hours. The school board approved an agreement with a consultant for the matter later at that meeting.
The district requested the study before the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed the process. The review team conducted the study in December and February which included reviewing hundreds of documents, conducted a survey and interviewed district employees.
The report outlines a total of 71 recommendations. Twenty of them would have quantifiable financial impacts for the district.
The district is not obligated to follow the recommendations, but Cobb said they will likely act on most of them.
“Within the next two years, I think we will implement most of them, albeit with a few modifications here and there,” he said.