Matt Wilson with Citizens for Great Schools, the committee promoting passage of the Washington School District’s $26 million zero tax-rate increase bond issue on the April ballot, gave a brief update to the school board Wednesday night.
Wilson, who also is a school board candidate, said marketing efforts are underway to encourage people to vote yes on Prop S, which will fund construction of a new school in the South Point attendance area and make safety improvements districtwide.
“We have a good plan and are moving forward,” he told the board, adding subcommittees will be formed next.
The committee has a Facebook page set up with information about the bond issue, endorsements, voter registration information and events.
The group’s first endorsement has come from the Washington 353 Redevelopment Corp.
The committee also is seeking donations to support the campaign.
A volunteer kickoff meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 28, from 7 to 8 p.m. at South Point Elementary.
The chairmen for the committee are Brad Mitchell, Stephen Trentmann and Lauren Storie.
In addition to building a new elementary school to replace South Point Elementary, Prop S will fund construction of secure vestibule entryways at all schools, visitor management systems and ADA accessibility improvements.
If approved, the new school would open in August 2021.
The aging South Point building, which is at capacity and located in a 100-year flood plain, has many issues. The long-range plan has been to replace the school, but past bond issues to do so have failed.
Currently, the school is no longer using its gym due to cracks in the walls caused by soil erosion that have made it structurally unsafe. There are cracks in other parts of the building, but engineers have said those areas are not of immediate concern.
Repair work is underway now and is expected to be completed by March. Funding for that project will come from the district’s reserve balances dedicated for emergency purposes.
A crack in one of the boilers flooded the basement of the building last week which is used for special classes and programs. The water damaged materials and equipment.
South Point also is currently utilizing three trailer-style classrooms on its campus. It serves about 433 students and has approximately 70 staff members.
No-Tax Rate Increase
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.
“This is a 20-year financing — similar to someone’s home mortgage,” Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told The Missourian.
“It is quite common to pay bond debt off early and this bond issue doesn’t extend all of our debt,” she explained. “We will be paying off existing debt in 2020, 2021, 2023 and 2035 respectively. It isn’t as if all the debt is one and the same.
“We analyze our debt structure and take advantage of early payoff opportunities, refinancing and refunding options as call dates on debt near,” she noted. “This is part of our overall debt management responsibilities.”
School districts in Missouri by statute can carry a debt capacity of 15 percent of their total assessed valuation. VanLeer said the Washington School District is only at 5 percent.
“The way in which school districts in this state can pursue no-tax rate increase bond issues is due in part to the payoff of debt over time and the structures in place to accommodate those goals,” she said.
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.