PITTSBURG — The Pittsburg school district is starting the year with a new focus — passing a $31 million bond.
On Monday, the school board agreed to drop the capital outlay fund 3.5 mills next school year in order to keep a potential bond to a one mill increase. One mill is $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The increase, if approved by voters on March 14, will bring the district’s mill rate from 48.91 mills this year to 49.91 during the next fiscal year. Brown said the potential increase would still be the third lowest in the last 15 years — fiscal year 2004 was a district high with 54 mills.
“I think to raise $31 million for a bond issue, if we can do that with a one mill increase, that is pretty unheard of,” Superintendent of Schools Destry Brown said.
The school board could increase the capital outlay mill after the next school year, but Brown said “historically,” the board has worked to lower or keep the mill levy flat. He did not foresee a future change.
“We have made a conscious effort to keep the mill levy flat or reduced,” board member Al Mendez said in a marketing brochure to be mailed out in February.
Further, taxpayers would see drops from the district every five years over the bond’s 20 year life, Brown said, because other district debts would fall off. The district has about $17 million in bond debt set to expire in 2023.
Piper Jaffray Managing Director Greg Vahrenberg said the interest rate would be an average of 4.45 percent, adding the estimate is “pretty conservative.”
What a one mill increase would mean to taxpayers
$50,000 = $5.75 increase per year
$100,000 = $11 per year
$200,000 = $22 per year
$100,000 = $25 increase per year
$150,000 = $37 per year
$200,000 = $44 per year
The district will start its marketing campaign the first week of February. Brochures will be mailed out detailing the scope of the projects. Signs will also be on display at the Meadowbrook Mall and various community meetings are going to be held. The district will announce those meetings through its social media pages.
“The main thing is we want to get information out in people’s hands so they can make an educated decision,” Brown said.
Projects at a glance
The plan would add extra space to double as storm shelters at each school. It would also create a storm shelter within the Family Resource Center, which teaches early education to toddlers. All of the shelters would meet FEMA’s requirements for wind at 250 mph and rubble load.
“Every building will be touched in a way that allows improved safety,” board member Marlene Willis said.
The high school would have the highest price tag at just over $18 million. Within the high school, the largest projects include heating and air at $5.9 million and a new kitchen and cafeteria which would also serve as a storm shelter, at $4.4 million. The kitchen and cafeteria area will be new construction where the current outdoor amphitheatre is.
Additionally, the plan includes remodeling science classrooms, along with adding a new administrative area and band area on the east side of the building.
The middle school is estimated at roughly $8 million for a new 800-person gymnasium with a weight room, and locker rooms to serve as the storm shelter. It would be the school’s second gymnasium.
Brown said the current gymnasium has to hold three gym classes at a time and poses a safety issue because of the overcrowding issues.
The plan calls for two new classrooms at George Nettels and Meadowlark elementary schools, a cafeteria and kitchen at Lakeside and multipurpose room at Westside.
Lastly, the plan would call for a storm shelter utilizing current space at the Family Resource Center. The elementary schools and center would cost roughly $4.8 million.
Concept drawings of the proposed layout can be viewed at usd250.org under the community tab.
Differences from the failed $67.6 million bond
The biggest projects removed from the failed January 2016 bond are an additional performing arts center at the high school and rebuilding the front section of the middle school.
Since the bond failed, the district has done a survey and met with different groups, and found out the price tag was “too high” and people did not want to see the 1920s section of the middle school torn down.
Brown said the additional money from the failed bond would have better addressed the district’s concerns with overcrowding and safety. He said the $31 million plan still addresses the safety, but mitigates the overcrowding problem.
The district has started working on projects out of its capital outlay fund since voters rejected the bond failed.
Concrete was poured on Saturday to fix the bowed wall in the middle school basement. The project is supposed to be completed by the end of January. The district plans to follow up the project, which was allotted no more than $169,514, with work on the middle school towers and front stairs.
The school board also approved $229,442 from the capital outlay to replace the 1979 high school bleachers. The project is scheduled to start during spring break.
Any potential bond would receive 28 percent state reimbursement. The Kansas State Legislature just started the 2017 session and plan to rewrite the school funding formula.
The block grant was passed in 2015 and froze school funding for two years. Before then, the state reimbursement was 45 percent.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court at anytime could weigh in on whether the state’s $4.1 billion spent on K-12 is enough. The lawsuit could mean as much as $800 million more being put to K-12.
Additionally, the state faces a $349 million budget shortfall through June 30 and a $582 million deficit the next fiscal year.
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.