The Washington School District is wasting no time in educating parents and patrons of its $26 million zero tax-rate increase bond issue that will be on the April 2 ballot.
Detailed information on Prop S — which will fund construction of a new elementary school in the South Point attendance area and safety upgrades, including construction of secure vestibule entryways at all schools, visitor management systems and ADA accessibility improvements — can be found on the district’s website at www.washington.k12.mo.us.
The district also answers some questions regarding the bond issue in a special Q&A on the website.
Additionally, a campaign committee to promote passage of Prop S has been formed.
If approved, the new school to replace South Point Elementary would open in August 2021.
The school board unanimously approved placing the bond issue on the ballot at its December meeting.
The aging South Point Elementary building, which is at capacity and located in a 100-year flood plain, has many issues that have been articulated over the years by school officials. The long-range plan has been to replace the school, but past bond issues to do so have failed.
Currently, South Point is no longer using its gym due to cracks in the walls 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.
Last month, the board awarded a contract for $130,000 to repair the cracks in the gym so it can be used while the new school is being built. P.E. classes, concerts, assemblies and other events held regularly in the gym have been displaced for now.
The repair work will begin this month with substantial completion expected by March.
Funding for the project will come from the district’s reserve balances dedicated for emergency purposes.
South Point School also is utilizing three trailer-style classrooms on its campus. It serves about 433 students and has approximately 70 staff members.
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said a site study has been updated on the Highway 100 property the district already owns for construction of the new school.
“We do own land in the South Point attendance area which is a good thing and is currently our best option for a new school; however, if there is a better option that makes sense and is significantly less expensive, of course, we would do our due diligence and analyze it from a site development perspective,” she said. “Ideally, we know that we need approximately 25 acres for the purposes of an elementary school.”
But first, VanLeer said the district needs permission from voters to build the school in the first place.
“That is what Prop S is all about, quality schools along with student safety districtwide,” she said.
In the Q&A on the website, district officials said the school board is committed to retiring South Point Elementary as stated in the long-range plan.
The South Point campus has soil erosion issues which caused the cracks in the interior walls and shifts in the foundation.
School officials said significant renovations and repairs do not make sense at the current site.
Safety remains a top priority and the next phase of upgrades with the vestibules, visitor management solutions and ADA accessibility improvements at all schools aligns with best practices and protocols.
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.
Property values also have improved along with maintained assessed valuation.
The levy is currently set at 47 cents and is estimated to remain unchanged.
School officials also said interest rates are still low which is favorable to pursue new construction.
The district said an elementary boundary change or redistribution of South Point students to other buildings is not a viable solution because there are not enough classrooms to accommodate the 433 students currently enrolled at South Point.
If the bond issue fails, officials said students may have to be relocated and then it’s only a matter of time before class sizes increase in each of the schools; special classes such as art, music and STEM classes are shared or relocated; and transportation costs increase.
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.