In its second meeting in as many weeks, the Marshall School District Facility Committee met Monday evening to discuss what will be the third proposal put to voters of the district.
The committee is meeting with some regularity in order to have a recommendation to present to the Marshall Board of Education by December at the latest. In order for the bond issue to appear on the April 2003 ballot, it will have to be approved by the board and forwarded to Saline County Clerk Ken Bryant by the second Tuesday in January.
The April election is key because it is the only one in 2003 where a four-sevenths majority is needed to approve a bond issue. All other elections next year would require a two-thirds majority to pass. After April 2003 the next so-called "four-sevenths election" would be in April 2004.
Committee member Walt Keith kicked off Monday's meeting by bringing up an idea pitched at the previous meeting concerning pulling both fifth and sixth grade out of Bueker Middle School. He said a fourth, fifth and sixth-grade configuration had not been explored by the configuration committee and he wondered what others thought of the idea.
Member Morris Shikles noted that he had been the administrator of a kindergarten through sixth grade school and that had worked fine. District Administrative Assistant Kevin Hart, who put forth the idea last week, said he had suggested it as a temporary way of relieving stress on BMS, which now uses an annex and mobile classrooms to house students.
"I don't think the grade levels are perfect, like Don said, having fourth grade with sixth grade," he said, referring to comments made last week by Don Garst, director of elementary education. Garst had said that fourth- and sixth-graders were too developmentally distant to be in the same building.
Hart said if the district built a facility for first, second and third grades while also building a facility for fourth, fifth and sixth grades, the configurations could be changed in 10 years or so when bonding capacity would allow for construction of a new middle school.
Member Sharon Mills said one of the primary reasons for the three-grade buildings was the consistency it would give to students. She said studies have shown it can take up to a year for a person to become comfortable in a new environment. Because including the sixth grade would isolate kindergarten classes, she said she did not favor the idea.
Marshall Superintendent of Schools Joe Aull said there may be some problems with public perception of a fourth-through-sixth grade configuration as well. Leaving only two grades in Bueker Middle School may not seem like a wise use of space in coming years. He said if current enrollment trends stay as they are there would only be about 300 students in the building.
Talk of slipping enrollment also prompted some discussion. Aull noted that the current K-12 enrollment of 2,391 is about 200 lower than at this time last year and continues a decline that began several years ago.
Member Ron Drake asked if the district was being optimistic in thinking the trend would be reversed and what effects there would be if it isn't.
"Who knows what will happen, but we need to make plans," Aull said. "We're behind the times and the building we build will be a step in the right direction."
Member Lester Bailey said the decline in enrollment is negatively affecting the public's perception of the district's need for new facilities.
"The first thing I'm starting to hear is 'Hey, numbers are down so we don't need new facilities,'" he said.
It was noted by several members of the committee that overcrowding in some areas is only one reason to build new schools. Those countering the argument that new schools aren't needed at this time pointed out that several of the elementary school buildings being used were built in the 1920s and had served for far longer than originally intended.
As different configurations and remodeling options were discussed, the cost of each was also noted.
Building a new school which would serve three grade levels was estimated at nearly $7 million with the purchase of land. The cost of renovating Bueker Middle School to extend its usefulness was placed at about $3.5 million. The committee had also discussed adding science labs at the high school, a project valued at more than $350,000. Adding in the costs of refurbishing elementary buildings which would continue to be used, the district would be looking at a project totaling more than $12 million.
As the district recovered its bonding capacity, a second bond issue could be pursued in seven or eight years to construct a second three-grade elementary school. Then in another seven years the district would have the bonding capacity to pursue an issue for the construction of a new middle school.
Looking down the line
Committee member Tom Marshall said it is important to keep these long-term goals in mind when planning for the presentation of a bond issue to the public.
"We need to be looking at what the kids need and what we want to do in the future," he said.
Other members such as Bailey and Clay Mead were more pragmatic, saying the plan needed to be something that would appeal to the majority of voters.
"If you don't sell the program, you don't need to worry about down the line," Mead said.
Aull also presented the members with a comparison of tax levies set by districts in Saline County as well as other Missouri districts that are of comparable size to Marshall. He said he feels that in many cases support of an issue comes down to the tax increase people will be asked to shoulder.
The chart was not well received by all members of the group, however.
"I think you ought to throw that damn thing away," Mead said, adding that voters are interested in what they pay for taxes, not what is paid in other areas.
"I think the point is that when you look at what other people in other districts pay, (Marshall's levy) might not seem that high," Aull countered. "We have the lowest tax levy in Saline County and that's something I think people need to hear."
The evening's final comments came from member Barbara Lockhart, who said it was not the amount of the tax increase that mattered. She pointed out that if people feel they will get their money's worth, they will support an issue. Lockhart pointed to the sales tax issue passed by the Marshall Parks and Recreation Department as an example.
"It's time to stop talking about what will sell and start selling what we know we need," she said.
The board will continue forming its proposal on Monday, Nov. 18, when it meets at 7 p.m. in the Marshall High School library. The group is expected to take up discussions of potential sites for the new facilities at that time.