No matter what the St. Clair R-XIII School District Board of Education decides are its highest priorities as far as short- and long-term needs, members agree it will be essential to get the support of the community before an official action plan is developed and presented.
The school board and district administrators got together late last month to begin talking about prioritizing needs for the district from a facilities planning standpoint. They discussed improving and enhancing the safety of the district’s schools and students, infrastructure development and bonding capacity.
The meeting lasted about two hours and no decisions were made. Among those attending were Superintendent Mike Murphy, Assistant Superintendents Mark Denbow and Nadine Myers and the board of education, including Mike Drewel, who listened and participated through a conference call from San Antonio, Texas.
“The reason for this session is master facilities planning,” board President Dave Berkel said as the meeting got under way. “We will look at the plan, put some ideas together, see if there is anything new to discuss and determine our options and priorities.”
There has been discussion on whether the district should seek a multi-million-dollar bond issue to help pay for some of the pressing needs within the district. That was mentioned again during this meeting.
Murphy set the tone by reviewing the district’s mission statement, which is to “provide exemplary and lifelong learning opportunities today in preparation for tomorrow.”
“Our district centers on our students,” he said. “With that in mind, we need to focus on safety, facilities and design.”
Murphy prepared a list of district needs that were shared with board members. He also reviewed the master facilities plan that was developed in 2010 that showed possible future expansion of both St. Clair Elementary School on Bardot Street and the main campus on Highway 30 that includes Edgar Murray Elementary and the junior and senior high schools.
The majority of discussion concerned the main campus where additional safety measures, infrastructure and expansion are necessary. Murphy said the expansion plans don’t necessarily mean preparing for major growth in the district but instead how to better use and rearrange the space already available to best accommodate today’s students.
As far as safety concerns, surveillance system upgrades are necessary throughout the district. Steps have been made in this area over time, but in lieu of frequent shootings in schools across the country in recent years, school officials want to make sure the local schools are as safe and secure as possible.
Among the discussion items were adding bulletproof glass or a protective film in school entryways, installing better outside doors and having safety rooms in each building that could be used during severe weather and other occasions.
Closing the breezeway that cuts under the high school also was mentioned.
In the renovations area, board members agreed that there are pavement needs everywhere. Again, some improvements have been made over time, especially with portions of sidewalks around buildings. Additional and improved parking options around the high school campus also were discussed.
Better heating and cooling systems also are necessary, including air conditioning inside the high school gymnasium. During the meeting, it was stated that portions of the district’s heating and cooling system are 50 years old.
Making sure the district keeps up to date with technology also was a concern.
The longest discussion centered on traffic flow and designing options that increase safety of students and efficiency of dropoff and pickup points as well as better bus travel routes within the high school campus area. Included in that talk was designing a new road from Bardot Street-Neff Road on the west side of the campus to High School Drive as well as cutting a road near the high school that would join that new road with the current main drive on the campus.
The discussion included the future of the modular buildings used by high-schoolers and if they should stay and be improved or eliminated.
Board members and the administration have talked about those new roads previously.
Also, turning the current band room area into science classrooms complete with an adequate lab and moving the band and choir rooms into a new fine arts facility was discussed. That additional building could be located to the east of the current auditorium, which then could be used as classrooms or possibly a safe room.
No price tags were placed on any projects.
“Our challenge is going to be putting all the pieces together to get the most cost-effective rate of return,” said Murphy, who earlier in the meeting mentioned that economic conditions remain favorable for borrowing money because interest rates remain low.
“We need to formulate a plan, decide what we can do immediately and address both what we want to do in the short and long term.”
However, the school officials were in agreement that the community must be on board with any project, especially if a bond issue were put on a future ballot.
“We have to engage the community,” Murphy said. “We need to start pushing information out there. We need to gain public support if we are to be successful.”
Board members agreed.
“No matter which direction we go, we have to get the community involved and get the community to buy into what we’re doing,” Berkel said. “Most of the things we’ve talked about tonight are needs. Just look around. Our needs are everywhere. But we need to get input from the community as well as the faculty.
“People won’t get behind us if they don’t get behind our needs.”
“We do need the public to help tell us what our needs are,” Andy Geisert said.
No second meeting was set, but Murphy said he actively will work with the district’s key communicators group, which usually meets three times during the school year, to discuss district-related items.
“I would like to explore all this with that group and look at it from a needs perspective before we look at it from a financial perspective,” Murphy said.
He also said social media could be utilized.
“We’re just dipping our toe in the water as far as our needs,” Murphy said. “I would like to engage our faculty, students and community and get their interest in this.”
After the meeting, Berkel told The Missourian he was pleased with how things went.
“I’m glad that the board members were weighing in on the needs of the district,” he said. “As I stated in the meeting, we need to get the community behind the list of needs and do whatever it takes to fund them.
“Every year I hear the same complaints about heating and air conditioning in the junior high and high school, especially when it comes to activities in the gymnasiums. Phasing out the modulars and getting our students into a better and safer classroom environment is also a priority.
“The top of my list is always safety and security for our students, and with the way our world is today it has to be.”
Information presented to the St. Clair R-XIII School District Board of Education during its facilities planning session regarding funding for needed projects stated the district has a bonding capacity of $17 million.
Superintendent Mike Murphy prepared a financial summary that included some estimated figures.
Adding 5 cents to the district’s debt service levy would generate about $2 million with each additional nickel bringing in another $1.5 million.
A more specific example added 30 cents to the district’s debt service levy, which now stands at 62 cents per every $100 of assessed valuation, to produce a $9.5 million bond issue.
The debt service levy has remain unchanged for 13 years.
St. Clair R-XIII’s overall tax levy for 2013-14, approved last month, is $3.37.
The last proposed school district bond issue failed in 2008.