The Citizens for Great Schools committee made a stop on its question and answer tour at the Washington City Council chambers Monday night, earning an endorsement of the proposed bond issue.
The council voted 6-1 to support Prop S, which will fund construction of a new school in the South Point attendance area and make safety improvements districtwide.
Councilwoman Susan Watermann voted against the endorsement. Councilman Mark Hidricth was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
Watermann later added she is not against Prop S, but stated she disagrees with the city’s endorsement of any bond issue. She has previously stated that during a Missouri Municipal League conference, a state ethics commission speaker warned city boards to avoid throwing support at ballot initiatives.
The Washington School District’s $26 million zero tax-rate increase bond issue will appear on the April 2 ballot.
“For that school (South Point Elementary) it is time,” said Councilman Jeff Mohesky.
“Something is definitely needed,” added Councilman Jeff Patke. “It is a long time coming.”
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told the council the South Point building, which is at capacity, is located in a 100-year flood plain, and has many issues. The long-range plan has been to replace the school, but past bond issues to do so have failed.
If this bond issue is not approved, the district will try again next year, she said.
If approved, the goal would be for classes to be held at the new school beginning in August 2021.
South Point also is utilizing three trailer-style classrooms on its campus. It serves about 433 students and has approximately 70 staff members.
According to VanLeer, if the district is forced to close the school without a new building, the students will be sent to other schools in the district resulting in much larger class sizes.
From there would be discussions on morning and evening school shifts to accommodate so many students with a limited number of classrooms.
South Point School is no longer using its gym due to cracks in the walls caused by soil erosion that have made it structurally unsafe. Repair work is underway now and is expected to be completed this month. Funding for that project will come from the district’s reserve balances dedicated for emergency purposes.
There are cracks in other parts of the building, but engineers have said those areas are not of immediate concern.
Citizens for Great Schools committee member Stephen Trentmann said Prop S also will fund construction of secure vestibule entryways at all schools, visitor management systems and ADA accessibility improvements.
Trentmann explained that through his employment at The Missourian, he visits dozens of schools in the St. Louis area that print student newspapers. He said they all have vestibule entryways which provide a second layer of protection at the school entrances.
VanLeer noted that the new school may be built about 2 1/2 miles from the current South Point. There also is a possibility that a better location would be identified.
There are no plans for the property where South Point is located now, but the district will look into several options, including using it for greenspace or selling it.
School officials said the district is in the position for a zero tax rate increase bond issue because it has been paying off bond debt over time, refinancing bond debt and building a one-year reasonable reserve which offsets the need to increase the tax levy.
School officials also have noted that property values have improved along with maintained assessed valuation, and interest rates are still low, which is favorable to pursue new construction.
The district’s levy is currently set at 47 cents and is estimated to remain unchanged if Prop S passes.
Of the seven elementary schools in the district, South Point is the second largest. Washington West Elementary is the largest.
Prop S will require a four-sevenths majority (57.14 percent) to pass.