A facilities focus group for the Washington School District is in favor of going back to voters in the next six to nine months with a major bond issue for new construction and building improvements.
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the group met last week to discuss how the district should proceed since a $65 million bond issue, which included a 46-cent property tax increase, failed at the polls in April.
This was the second focus group meeting since voters rejected Prop I. Previously, the group discussed reasons why the bond issue went down and how to better educate and explain a future proposal to the public.
If Prop I had passed, the district planned to build a new elementary school, middle school and early childhood center, as well as renovate another building for an alternative education site, and make technology improvements districtwide.
VanLeer told The Missourian the group was asked to consider three options in preparation of another ballot initiative. Option 1 is the original plan, Option 2 is an incremental (phased-in) approach to addressing district needs and Option 3 is a drastically scaled back plan for consideration.
Plan features and financial estimates were shared and aligned with each plan presented, she said.
“A preliminary look at this feedback suggests keeping the plan the same or making slight adjustments,” VanLeer said. Those adjustments were not discussed in detail, she said.
The majority of the group was in favor of pursuing another initiative in the next nine months, she said, with the exact timing and strategies to be discussed at the next meeting.
“Most did not like the phased-in approach because there’s no guarantee if Phase 1 passes that Phase 2 will and then what do we do,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brendan Mahon discussed the options along with VanLeer. Dick Bartow of George K. Baum Investments, the district’s bond counsel, also was there to talk about the tax levy, debt service levy and budget considerations.
Timing of Election
Additionally, group members discussed the implications of being on the ballot in November of 2012 and/or April 2013.
“Several members of the group were very passionate when expressing their opinions regarding the needs of the district and the sense of urgency that needs to be considered by the community,” VanLeer said.
“Most felt the needs haven’t changed and they will only get worse going forward so they weren’t in favor of making significant adjustments or waiting too long,” she added.
Reorganization of the budget and cuts to programs and services also were briefly discussed, she said.
VanLeer said the school board will review the feedback at its meeting June 20 and will begin discussing program and service reductions and reorganization should the bond issue not pass the next time.
“There’s a lot to talk about and we need to weigh the pros and cons of when to run another election,” she said. “We also need to talk about what will be cut if a bond issue fails again. We will need to spell that out to voters.”
Program Changes for Next Year
Some changes are already being made for next year, VanLeer noted.
The district is currently out to bid for modular classroom units at Marthasville Elementary and South Point Elementary, she said, and the gifted education (Challenge) program will be moved out of Washington West Elementary to another building next year.
Some reorganization in terms of special education classrooms also will occur next year and the district will not host any home track meets in 2013 due to the need for major track repairs.
“This is all very unfortunate, but necessary,” VanLeer said.
The focus group has grown to include about 58 people. About 38 people were in attendance last week. The next meeting is set for July 11 from 6-8 p.m.