Guest Column: School board appraises 4A

Special to the Herald Times

MEEKER | Local voters will help decide two issues of importance to education in this November’s election. We, the School Board of Meeker School District RE-1, passed a resolution in support of local Ballot Issue 4A, which would provide funds to build a new Meeker High School. We also passed a second resolution in support of state ballot Amendment 73. In this article and in a second article in next week’s edition of The Herald Times we would like to explain the two ballot measures, offer perspectives for and against, and justify our resolutions for approval of both.

Ballot Issue 4A provides funding for a new Meeker High School and bus garage

Ballot Issue 4A allows the Meeker School District to offer up to $39.7 million in bonds to renovate parts of the existing Meeker High School, to construct a new classroom wing and gymnasium, and also to build a new bus garage. The District hired engineers expert in school construction to perform a thorough evaluation of existing buildings. Based on their findings and the experience of District staff, the existing bus garage is decrepit, and Meeker High School no longer meets the needs of our students. It is an aging structure with significant deficiencies in security, access, learning space and utilities. It does not present an optimal learning environment, and it does not provide adequate security for our students and staff. Please reference the Facilities Master Plan, available on the District web site, for a detailed analysis.We are sensitive to criticisms from members of the community. The bond issue, if passed, will increase property taxes by about $2.40 per month per $100,000 home value. Some ask whether we could get by with less costly repairs to the high school and bus garage. Some question the need for increased gym space. Others wonder if complete demolition and building an entirely new structure would be less expensive. We have considered these issues and others, and we are confident that the proposed bond issue and building plans are fiscally sound, fair and most likely to meet students’ safety and instructional needs. Please refer to formal board discussion of these matters in meeting minutes available on the District web page.

Why the Board chose to pursue a bond issue rather than a mill levy increase

One question in particular requires a response. Why is the school district asking for an increase in taxes to build new facilities instead of pursuing a mill levy increase to meet operational costs? This is certainly a legitimate concern, and it has generated considerable discussion at board meetings. Reviewing our options, we find that without a bond, the district could only address its facilities needs by using funds that would otherwise be allocated to educational programs. Doing so would likely result in further reductions in staff positions and classroom resources. Even if the district were to receive additional operating revenue through a mill levy increase, those funds would quickly be siphoned away from instruction to address the facilities issues—failing roofs, failing heating and ventilation systems, insecure entry-ways, etc. Additionally, any funding pulled from educational programs still only provides Band-Aid solutions instead of comprehensive fixes to the facilities. Given new construction paid by a bond issue, we believe we may be able to realize savings in excess of $100,000 annually through reductions in repair and energy costs. That money can be allocated to programming for students. Finally, we hope that passage of Amendment 73 will resolve our operational concerns. (We’ll provide an analysis of Amendment 73 next week.)

The school district will seek other funds to minimize bond debt, and building plans will preserve community space

In response to an extensive community survey and comments from an advisory committee of community volunteers, the district administration and the board have reduced significantly the original price estimates for high school and bus garage. We plan to pursue state funding (BEST Grant) to help offset the costs of construction. Our initial application for BEST funds, last year, was not approved, but we have a stronger application for the next round of grants, especially if passage of Ballot Issue 4A demonstrates community support. We shall seek other grants as well, and we will make our best effort to assure that public funds are invested as efficiently as possible. Along the way, we remain sensitive to community requests to preserve community space in a new building. The auditorium, gyms and other school facilities are to a considerable degree the heart of the Meeker community.
We hope these comments help inform your decision on Ballot Issue 4A. Board members will be available to answer questions at various venues throughout the election season, and you are always welcome to contact board members directly. Thank you for your careful consideration of this important issue.

By the Meeker School Board: Tom Allen, Kevin Amack, Bill deVergie, Bob Dorsett, Bud Ridings, Laurie Whiteman Simonsen, David Smith