December 20, 2014

Divided board moves forward with school bond issue

Amy Cunningham
acunningham@gardnernews.com

By a five-to-two margin, the Spring Hill Board of Education voted Tuesday evening on a resolution to move forward with a $39 million bond issue for the district.

USD 230 officials cite the shortage of classroom space along with the need to address deferred maintenance and technology issues as the driving force behind the bond, which the district says will result in “no mill levy increase” for taxpayers.

Andy Anderson of the DLR Group, an architecture, engineering and planning group currently working on the project, unveiled a never- before-seen comprehensive plan for the 160 acre

Spring Hill High School site.  The master plan now allocates areas for constructing an elementary school and a middle school at the location.

Board members discussed HB2200, a bill currently in committee in the Kansas House.

According to Bart Goering, district superintendent, if the bill passes, it could eliminate the $7.6 million in state aide the district is counting on to complete the project. Goering told the board that, even if the House bill becomes law, as long as USD 230’s bond issue passes by July of 2011, the district would be guaranteed to receive the state’s assistance.

Bond counsel, Greg Vahrenberg of Piper Jaffrey, told board members that losing the state’s aide could result in a 1.4 mill bond increase for bonds passed after July 1.

Board member Max Strausbaugh said he was concerned with the finances of the state and he wondered if Kansas would be able to financially contribute at all.

“Can we count on the state?  Right now they’re withholding three months of payments (to schools),” he questioned.  Goering said that he believes that the district will be able to rely on those payments from the state.

Strausbaugh also asked about the probability of assessed valuations within the district continuing to fall.

“The school district is required to levy at a level that generates sufficient revenue,” Vahrenberg stated, adding that the district could be forced to raise the mill if valuations continue to decline.  “If you see a trend to lower assessed valuations you can react to that.”

Board members Nels Anderson, Eric Boyle, Bill Meek, Scott Oberkrom and Chuck Willis voted in support of the resolution with members Chris King and Strausbaugh casting dissenting votes.

King argued that he believes with the uncertain times the area, the nation and world  are facing, he isn’t sure that now is the appropriate time to move forward with the project.

“There’s a lot of risk – if our valuations don’t meet the marks people’s taxes will (increase),” he surmised.  “…we can wait until we have a greater need than we have now.  I’ve never seen a time where our world is doing what it’s doing now.  I’d like to believe in the country and in Spring Hill that we’ll pull through…but given people being able to feed their families or having 10 extra kids in a classroom, I would choose the (latter).”

Boyle implored the board to take action in support of the resolution instead of waiting until schools were full before deciding to expand. He said that the board had received counseling from a variety of professional sources on the state of the district and that waiting could be costly to the taxpayers, especially if it misses out on the $7.6 million in state aide.

“…We hire professionals and we have to take the information they give to us to make a decision for the community,” he petitioned.  “The growth is coming;  its here;  it’s in process right now. We can address these issues right now.”

Oberkrom said that he supported sending this issue to the voters to let them decide what direction was right for the district.

“Whatever happens in the House in Topeka, we shouldn’t feel under the gun.  We’re doing this for the right reasons, because we need space for the kids in our schools,” he said. “…Passing this resolution is an opportunity for us to gauge the desires of the citizens. I’d like to see this resolution pass.”

The bond will nearly double the size of Prairie Creek Elementary School with an addition that would increase its capacity to 528 students, construct a new elementary school with a capacity of 528 students, once again utilize Spring Hill Elementary School as a Pre-K through fifth grade building and convert Spring Hill Intermediate School to a sixth grade-only facility.

In addition, $8 million of the monies generated from the bond would pay for deferred maintenance needs; this includes parking lots, sidewalks, asphalt, roofing needs, lawn care equipment, interior improvement needs and installing geothermal HVAC systems in Spring Hill Middle School and SHES.  It also allows for 10 percent of the $8 million budget to be used as a contingency for future or unforeseen needs.

Also covered in the bond would be $3.25 million for technology upgrades throughout the district.

The school district plans to place the bond on an early June mail ballot that Superintendent Goering estimated to cost district patrons $12,000.

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