Washington School District

Washington School District

It’s back to the drawing board for Washington School District officials as they determine their next step following the defeat of a $65 million bond issue in the April 3 election.

The school board met Monday night to certify election results and discuss possible reasons for the loss, short-term implications, financial challenges that lie ahead and “what now.”

The district-wide vote for the bond issue, which included a 46-cent property tax increase, was 3,415 no to 2,928 yes. The measure needed a 57 percent majority to pass. About 46 percent of voters were in favor of it.

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the board will need to re-examine the district’s long-range plan in its entirety while researching cost-cutting measures and revenue-generating strategies.

VanLeer plans to reconvene the facilities focus group and campaign committee and engage “any and all interested” in the process.

“We also will conduct a boundary study, examine building uses and grade configurations again as well as research consolidation options going forward,” she told the board.

“I don’t think we could have had a better plan,” VanLeer said, but decisions will need to be made in modifying it, scaling it back or starting over.

Board member Scott Byrne said he wants to get more feedback from the focus groups, campaign committee and patrons, but he defended the plan presented to voters.

“I know some people want a new high school and yes that was discussed back in 2007, but we’re in a different world today,” he said, citing the economy.

“It does not make good business sense to do that (build only a high school) when we could fix all of our problems districtwide with this plan,” Byrne added. “We need to spend the money wisely and that’s by fixing all of the problems, not just one.”

Dan Contarini, board member, said there is a segment of the patrons fixated on building a new high school.

However, board member Rick Rehmeier said he also heard from those who favored building a new middle school and elementary school, instead of a high school, given the circumstances of today.

“There were many people happy with the new plan,” he added.

VanLeer said her administrative team discussed various reasons that could be attributed to the loss which include apathy, poor voter turnout, the economy, not connecting the benefits of the plan to the broader picture, lack of trust or pride and a lack of understanding about the plan.

“I think all of those things played a part,” she said.

Board member Brian Sumner said he feels apathy among parents is a major reason the bond issue was defeated, pointing out that less than half of district parents are even registered to vote and only a percentage of those who are turned out to vote.

“The economy and gas prices, yes, play a part, but it’s apathy and that kills me,” he said. “What is going on with our parents?”

New board member Kevin Blackburn said he feels it will take cuts and program changes for people to understand the full impact.

Short-Term Implications

VanLeer said the district unfortunately will have to revisit budget cuts — something it did only a couple of years ago when $4 million was slashed.

Short-term implications were presented Monday night, but not all of the options are final.

VanLeer said it has been decided to relocate the Growing Place Preschool at Washington West Elementary into the new modular trailers currently being utilized by early childhood special education programs due to the need for more classroom space.

Under consideration is relocating or discontinuing the preschool class at Clearview Elementary next year. Incoming kindergarten enrollment is being monitored, VanLeer said. The art and music teachers at Clearview also will be back to utilizing carts and shuffling where space is available.

At Marthasville Elementary, at least one trailer will likely be needed so VanLeer said school officials will begin preparing bids.

Lack of space also is a concern at South Point Elementary, which had been slated to close if the bond issue passed. Options being studied are putting the art and music teachers on a cart and orchestra will remain in the hallway. Modular trailers also are being studied to eliminate classrooms in the basement.

VanLeer said HVAC and maintenance remains a concern with the South Point building and will likely result in a loss of instructional time.

At Washington Middle School, the health education teachers will have to travel to available classrooms, utilizing rooms during regular teachers’ plan times.

The science and technology upgrades planned at Washington High School will be postponed, as will wireless access points, VanLeer said.

The Missouri Options program also will be relocated to the Technology and Learning Center due to lack of space at the Four Rivers Career Center.

Track and field upgrades at the high school also will be postponed which VanLeer said will likely mean no home track events next year due to major safety hazards.

“We can no longer patch the holes,” she said. “The whole infrastructure needs to be redone and I don’t know that we can do that with current dollars.”

VanLeer showed photos of the track disrepair to the board. “I just think the liability would be too great to host track events,” she added.

Financial Challenges

The operations budget will be stretched as modular trailers are leased, VanLeer said, and some upgrades will have to be made eventually.

Technology is a big area of concern, she said, as the district begins to implement the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment requirements over the next few years.

“We have to be able to meet the needs of students and state requirements in these areas,” she said. “And all of this will have to come from the operations budget.”

Budgetary cuts will need to be made to offset the costs, VanLeer told the board.

Another option is to roll up the debt service levy which the board has been voluntarily rolling back each year.

VanLeer said the quality of education suffers when resources are lacking.

“That is my biggest concern and although the staff will do all it can it will increasingly become more difficult,” she said.

A board workshop is planned in May to further discuss all options, including putting another proposal back on the ballot possibly in April 2013.