It’s a good thing the Spring Hill Board of Education will carefully consider a recommendation from a citizens’ committee rather than giving it the thumbs up.
Board members heard a presentation from a committee charged with examining long range planning needs of the district and making a recommendation on Monday night. And there are some major concerns that need to be addressed before the board approves such a plan and moves to hold a bond issue election.
The recommendation would build a new elementary school, expand Prairie Creek Elementary School and re-adjust class alignments at existing schools at a cost of $34 million.
Consultants told the committee and the school board $34 million could be raised through a bond issue without a tax increase on district residents.
The assumptions – 2 percent growth in assessed valuation — over the next two years followed by 4 or 5 percent growth beyond  – seems unrealistic considering assessed valuations have decreased by approximately 2 percent annually in the school district for the last two years.
Even if those numbers somehow hold and there is no need for a school tax increase, we would caution Spring Hill residents to be wary of how the new school affects their city bills.
The new high school caused devastating pressure in the city budget. To accommodate the high school, the city of Spring Hill built a major sewer line between the city proper and the new school with disastrous financial repercussions.
City officials projected that if they built the sewer trunk line, builders would flock to the area paying large sewer hook-up fees to help fund the expenditure.
Oops. The new high school (along with other factors) led to a dramatic increase in sewer rates to make up the difference.
Spring Hill residents were sold one bill of goods by the school district to pass a bond issue and another bill of goods as a massive sewer trunk line was built only to be slapped in the face with higher fees later when they could least afford them.
And then there’s what appears to be the district’s pension for abandoning old buildings rather than restoring, maintaining and remodeling the buildings they already have.
With the last bond issue, the district abandoned Hilltop. For a time, it sat empty, used for district storage until Insight Schools came calling.
Before that, district officials abandoned the old school building that now houses the civic center. That building was sold to the city for $1. Part of it is in use as city hall. But city officials allowed the south side to deteriorate, and now citizens will be asked on the November ballot whether they would like a tax increase to restore the building or a smaller increase to demolish it. We don’t understand why the school district didn’t keep that building and upgrade it over the years.
Although the committee’s recommendation doesn’t expressly condemn any existing school buildings to that fate immediately, the writing is on the wall when the total package is considered.
Under the committee’s recommendation, Spring Hill Intermediate School would house only sixth grade students, leaving large portions of the building unoccupied by students. School officials said it could be used for other purposes, but why build more space if you’re going to waste the space you already have?
A committee representative told school board members that the goal of only using the building for sixth graders would be to maintain the integrity of the district’s plan to eventually house 528 students in four elementary schools that feed into two middle schools that would house about double that. The middle schools would feed to a single high school with a capacity for 1,406 students.
Bottom line: once a new elementary is built, the next bond issue would likely require another new elementary school and a new middle school. In fact, committee members considered an option that included a new elementary school and a new middle school. That option was rejected due to costs during these economic times.
Where does that likely leave Spring Hill Intermediate School in the future?
Probably not being used as a traditional school if history is any indication.
Also of concern — the DLR Group that facilitated discussions has a conflict of interest in the long-range plans for the district. They’re paid only if and when voters pass a bond issue.
Finally, the district’s population growth projections lead to a troubling question: If the district expects to eventually need four elementary schools for 2,012 students, why do they only anticipate needing a high school that serves 1,406 to later serve those same students?
Why do district officials anticipate losing more than 600 students between kindergarten and high school graduation?
Fortunately, the school board will host a work session to discuss the committee’s plans. Hopefully, these are a few of the questions they’ll address.