The Washington School District’s facilities focus group met again Wednesday night to chart a path going forward after voters rejected a $65 million bond issue which included a 46-cent property tax increase in April.
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.
The facilities focus group, made up of patrons, staff and business leaders, offered an initial recommendation of running a similar bond issue in the next six to nine months.
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer reconvened the group to seek more input and get more specific on what that bond issue would entail.
The school board has not decided when it will go back to voters, but a decision is expected soon.
A reorganization plan for the upcoming school year has already been approved by the school board.
At Wednesday night’s focus group meeting, four options were presented for discussion and then a vote was taken. About 30 people were present.
“Participants were asked to consider all of the data and facts, the information shared at previous meetings, and the election trends prior to voting for their top two facility proposals,” VanLeer told The Missourian.
The options are as follows:
• Option 1 — The original proposal, a $65 million bond issue with a 46-cent property tax increase.
• Option 1B — The original proposal with slight modifications, an approximate $61 million bond issue with a 43-cent tax increase.
• Option 2 — The original proposal, minus construction of a new elementary building, a $47 million bond issue with a 35-cent tax increase. Washington Middle School would be converted into an elementary school temporarily under this scenario. The district would have to go back to voters sometime in the future to build an elementary building. This would happen when Washington High School grows to the point that it needs to assume the property and space of the temporary elementary building.
• Option 3 — The original proposal, minus construction of a new elementary building and early childhood center, a $42 million bond issue with a 33-cent tax increase. A future bond issue would be needed to complete these projects.
VanLeer said participants were given details surrounding each of the options and estimated costs associated with each.
“After discussing at their table, reading through literature and asking questions, they were asked to vote for two options by placing stickers on the options that were best in their eyes,” she said.
Since not all focus group members were in attendance, voting will remain open until July 24.
“The top two proposal options will then be presented to the school board for consideration,” VanLeer said.
Makeup meetings for those not in attendance will be held Monday, July 16, at 7:30 a.m. and Monday, July 23, at 5:30 p.m.
Before voting on the options, VanLeer said the group was given a lot of data to gain a historical perspective regarding ballot initiatives of the past.
Approval ratings, total votes and proposed project details were shared, she said, dating back to 1990.
“Generally speaking, any issue, whether a bond issue or an operating levy increase is not well received in our community,” VanLeer said. “The district has not passed a bond issue, requiring an increase to the tax levy of more than 3.7 cents in the last 25 years.”
VanLeer said it’s important to share all of this information so focus group members can make an informed decision.
“This was a very somber evening,” she said.
“But, in order to use facts and not emotions, this information needed to be shared,” she added. “I am very appreciative and grateful to have volunteers serving on this focus group and all focus groups. I think they realize that I will provide them with facts and my honest opinion. I believe they know that I respect their thoughts as well.”
VanLeer also talked about deficit spending, “something we have worked hard to avoid,” she noted.
“Our reserve balances will allow us to complete a small project by use of a low-interest lease or cash, if the expenditure is short-term or a one-time-only expense,” she said. “However, if the bond issue doesn’t pass the second time, our needs are still there, and ongoing deficit spending is not an option, therefore cuts will need to be made to the budget again.”
VanLeer also discussed how the district has made significant procedural changes over the last 3 1/2 years, and implemented two phases of reductions, totalling about $4 million.
“The only thing left to look at is the discontinuation of programs and services, and this would be very unfortunate,” she said. “Although no final decisions have been made regarding cuts, discussions will continue in preparation of next year’s budget.”
VanLeer said voting results of the focus group will be presented at the July 25 school board meeting.