On a campus with 10 portable classrooms wedged between a concrete building and a basketball court, the only thing parent Susan Kairalla wanted from the bond money promised to Glades Middle School was more space for students.
Instead, the school district tore down four classrooms to make room for a new counselors' suite and expanded the principal's office. Early discussions about a 12-classroom addition were scrapped. Glades Middle got six, but with the loss of four classrooms, the school gained little space.
Kairalla spent weeks in the early 1990s lobbying for more classrooms and is among dozens of Miami-Dade County parents who, at the sputtering end of a massive building program, are now questioning the way the School Board spent millions in crucial construction dollars.STILL HURTING It took the board 13 years to deliver the classrooms and renovations to Glades Middle. Now, the school is about 800 students over its permanent-building capacity, and three more portables have been crammed onto a field that sometimes floods when it rains. Students take French class in the cafeteria.
An exceptional-children's class has set up shop in an assistant principal's office. In 2001, only four middle schools in Florida were more crowded than Glades. Meanwhile, at a former principal's request, the floor of the front office was covered with expensive tile. "Unless there is water dripping from the roof, unless there is sewage coming from the ground, what we need is instructional space, " Kairalla said. "The principal does not need to have a palatial estate." Glades Middle, at 9451 SW 64th St., is a close-knit campus nurtured for years by involved parents and veteran teachers. Chandra Davis' drama students have placed in the state competition for each of the past three years. Test scores were high enough to earn the school an A rating in the state's testing program.
But space is scarce, and the school is waiting for the most basic improvements, such as better lighting.
"If you're going to read, you've got to have lights, " said Ricardo Rodríguez, who became principal at Glades last summer.
WORK CAME LATE
Glades Middle School was among the last to see construction from the 1988 bond program. An architect was hired in 1993, but construction didn't start for six more years because of planning delays and other problems.
The district also needed time to gather the money for construction. The school saw four different principals during that time, and each tinkered with the project.
"I thought they would come in to do the classrooms, and that wasn't happening, " said Davis, who teaches drama in an old science room crowded with props and costumes. "I thought they would make more space."
The school district worked on the counseling suite and front office because those needs were identified by educators, said Carlos Hevia, executive director of construction. The counseling suite also houses several resource rooms for students.
But Hevia agrees the school needs more classrooms.
"They probably needed more than they got, " he said. "There's no doubt in my mind. We were always asking for more money, more money, more money for that school."
Kairalla says the district's priorities were skewed right from the start. "After all that money and all that time, " she says, "we only got two more classrooms than we had before."