ORLANDO – Standing in the media center of Memorial Middle School, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette said the entire city had good reason to be proud of this building.
“What a beautiful school the students have to go to,” Sublette said.
The school’s principal, Shelia Windom, said the staff, administrators and students are all well aware of how impressive the school at 2220 W. 29th St. is.
“They commented on how beautiful the media center is,” Windom said, “and I say, always!”
What really made it all possible, Sublette said, is something that’s become a dirty word in politics these days: taxes.
On Nov. 2, 2010, Orange County voters approved a school property tax increase by a 55-45 percent margin. The ballot measure increased the current school property tax by 1 mill for four years to help provide for school programs and services. The tax hike, Sublette said, helps make schools like this one available in tough budgetary times.
“We’re the only community out of 67 counties that stepped up to the plate and voted in the 1 cent sales tax to pay for this,” Sublette said, adding that while increasing your own taxes can be a tough sell, he applauded voters for recognizing the benefits of well funded schools.
“We have so much that’s exciting going on in the Orlando public schools,” Sublette said.
Sublette spoke this week at a press conference held at Memorial Middle School, to recognize the expansion of the Orlando Cares program, which recruits mentors and volunteers to work with students. Sublette said both that program, and the approval of the sales tax, help make Orange County’s schools better places for learning, while the ultimate winners, he added, were the children.
“The world may be a little bit better because you were important in the life of a child,” Sublette said. “We cannot go this alone. We cannot have the high quality public school system we all want unless we have help.”
Tax hike proposals are notoriously difficult to pass, particularly in tough economic times. In 2010, commissioners in Hillsborough, Osceola and Polk counties put measures on the ballot to raise the local sales tax to pay for badly-needed transportation programs and road improvement projects, but all three lost badly.
The passage of the school property tax increase was rare victory for a tax-raising ballot measure.
But for those attending the press conference for Orlando Cares, there was a clear message that one obvious winner came through on election day: the students in Orange County’s schools.
“When it comes to children, they’re the center of our hearts,” Windom said.
“We have a very challenging school district because we have a very diverse student population,” Sublette said, noting that students who attend any of Orange County’s elementary, middle or high schools speak 142 languages and come here from 220 nations.
Michael Robbins , the senior advisor for Nonprofit Partnerships in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, also attended the Orlando Cares press conference on behalf of the Obama administration. He said Orange County should be applauded for the hard work that goes into the local schools, including sponsoring successful mentoring programs like Orlando Cares.
“This is the first place to do this, and Orlando went out in a limb,” he said. “You’re really leading the nation in terms of education.”
And what really helps make local schools a success, Robbins added, is the involvement of the entire community.
“We know that schools can’t and shouldn’t go it alone,” he said. “Education is everyone’s responsibility.”
To learn more about Memorial Middle School, log on to Memorial Middle.
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