If Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer had to describe the ballot initiative the Washington School District is asking voters to approve next Tuesday in one word it would be “comprehensive.”
“This is a comprehensive plan that solves multiple issues over many years,” VanLeer told The Missourian.
On Tuesday, April 3, voters will decide a $65 million bond issue with a 46-cent property tax increase for new construction, renovations and technology improvements.
The proposal requires a 57 percent majority for passage.
If approved, the district will build a new K-5 elementary school and 6-8 middle school on property it owns off Highway 100, and an early childhood center on the Washington West Elementary campus.
Other plans include renovating the Technology and Learning Center into an alternative education school; converting the current middle school into a ninth-grade center; renovations at Washington High School; HVAC upgrades at Augusta Elementary; and technology and other improvements districtwide.
Fits Like a Puzzle
VanLeer said the plan fits together like a puzzle.
“People may be curious as to why this proposition is so comprehensive,” she said. “The focus group members looked at options, from having three bond issues over the course of six years or having one bond issue, like proposed. Overwhelmingly, we decided that it had to be now, and it had to solve multiple problems.”
VanLeer said the construction of a new middle school solves the problem of space constraints at five other buildings.
“It also frees up space for networked computer labs in multiple locations,” she said. “This is the most efficient solution considering additions onto five buildings is more expensive per square foot than new construction.”
VanLeer also pointed out the problems with South Point School are abundant. South Point and Fifth Street are two schools slated to be closed with the construction of a new elementary school.
“Not only has the South Point building been upgraded to the 100-year floodplain, it also needs HVAC, ceiling and lighting renovations,” she said. “It is also our biggest elementary with a very small cafeteria and kitchen.
“We have students in the basement of the old building, this is no longer desirable,” she added. “If we just build a middle school, we don’t solve the problems at South Point.”
Fifth Street also needs renovation, she said, which has been a growing concern for quite some time.
“The retirement of these two facilities and the construction of a new elementary school makes sense financially and educationally,” VanLeer said.
The property on Highway 100 also is located in the South Point attendance area, she noted.
“As the building plan unfolded, and the South Point attendance center became more and more in question, the land location became that much more important,” she said. “We decided the new elementary building and middle school would both be located on this property thus creating an efficient use of the property.”
VanLeer said high school renovations to accommodate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) projects, technological efficiency and other program expansions/renovations also is part of the comprehensive plan.
“The ninth-grade center approach will result in safer travel from class to class due to decreased hallway congestion at the high school main campus, and better academic programming that encourages the level of rigor and support needed to succeed in high school,” she said.
Exterior renovations and a facelift to other common spaces at the high school also are included in the plan.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to spend $20,000 to $30,000 a year to cut and maintain a field that doesn’t grow grass anymore,” VanLeer said. “Nor is it OK for our track to be patched over and over.
“We should have a surface that welcomes our band, physical education classes and our youth,” she added.
VanLeer said the district will be “smart” in the way it pays for some projects associated with this plan out of its current budget. Some short-term financing options also may be available.
“We also partner with our athletic association and band boosters whenever possible,” she said.
Early Childhood, Alternative Education
VanLeer said the ballot initiative also addresses early childhood and alternative education, two areas the district is behind in.
Early intervention makes good educational and financial sense, she said, because it provides children with the opportunity to make progress toward or completely overcome developmental delays.
“By putting all of the district’s early learning programs under one roof, we can maximize our resources, discontinue the lease of modular trailers and maximize the educational experiences of our early students, parents and staff,” she said.
VanLeer said the district has made some initial progress with its alternative education programming, but is at a standstill now due to a lack of space for a true alternative setting.
“We need to evolve our current programs and/or provide more intense interventions for students who do not perform or engage in the traditional school setting,” she said. “We, as a school district, want to ensure that we tier interventions that best meet the needs of our students.”
VanLeer said it’s the district’s mission to educate all students regardless of ability, value for education, involvement of parents, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, behaviors and learning needs.
“This is challenging work, but work that must be done,” she said.
VanLeer said the bond issue is about classroom space, educational delivery and operational efficiency.
“It truly will impact pre-kindergraten through senior high school students for many years to come,” she said.