South Bend School District is proposing a $4.95 million dollar bond initiative to voters this April 24, 2018. Revenue from the bond, in conjunction with over $11 million from state special funding provided in the capital budget and School Construction Assistance Program, will provide the needed funds of approximately $16 million dollars to construct a new elementary school, replacing the almost 70-year-old Chauncey Davis Elementary building. This article attempts to provide specific information about the project and proposed bond.
Citizens of the late 40's and early 50's built an elementary school that has served our community well a long period of time. The school district has done an amazing job maintaining the school for almost seven decades, but the building's bones are aged. The state conducts a study and survey of all Washington schools every six years, which was conducted in South Bend last spring. Results of their work show the current elementary school showing what any school its age would---major deficiencies in almost all areas. The current building is also subject to water intrusion each year, is not built to current seismic code, and shows the expected wear as any other high-use public building its age.
How does a community of South Bend's size and resources afford to build a new school in this day and age? Well, in South Bend's case, we can't. For good reason, the state has laws that preclude school districts from taking on excessive debt. Specifically, the law says schools cannot assume debt in excess of 5% of the district's total assessed property values. In round numbers, this means South Bend could legally ask voters for approximately $9-10 million dollars. Though this amount doesn't come close to the costs of a new school, even if it did, the tax rate would be overbearing for our citizens.
Knowing this was an issue and a very real problem, the district began looking for solutions almost two years ago. With the help of our legislators (Sen. Takko, Rep. Walsh, and Rep. Blake), we have found a viable way forward. State Capital Budget funding of $7,712,000 million dollars and an additional $3.5 million in state matching funds presents an opportunity for substantial relief to taxpayers. With this special funding, South Bend taxpayers only need to approve a $4.95 million dollar bond to provide the remaining funds needed to build the new school.
As a property owner here in South Bend, I am sensitive to factors impacting my property taxes. I like to have a good idea about how my property taxes are affected by different tax drivers and how my tax dollars are used. Knowing that all taxpayers have similar concerns, one of the first things I studied about our bond proposal was how it would impact the yearly tax bill.
Not surprisingly, I have had others ask the same question. That is, "How much will the new bond impact my taxes?"
Though needed, the thought of building a $16 million dollar school in South Bend, or any other small community, is a tough option to consider. However, two unusual circumstances help with the decision:
- The state is providing over $11 million dollars of the total cost, about 70% all-in-all; and,
- The state legislature changed the school levy law last July, 2017, which will dramatically decrease the South Bend tax burden beginning in 2019.
South Bend taxpayers currently pay a combined rate of $4.75 per $1,000 for our bond and M&O. Beginning in January, 2019, South Bend's M&O levy rate will reduce from $3.75 per $1,000 to $1.50 per $1,000. If approved, the new bond rate will be $1.81 per $1,000. These changes result in a new combined rate total of $3.31 per $1,000---$1.44 less than the current rates.
For a $100,000 home, taxpayers would pay $331 dollars per year combined for the new bond and M&O levy. This is an estimated $144 dollars per year less than the current rates. If the bond is approved, it would be paid back over 20 years and have a projected interest rate in the low to mid 2's.
If the bond passes in April (requires a 60% majority), we will immediately begin building design with our facility committee and architects. Input from staff and community members will be taken throughout the process. The plan would be to break ground early Spring, 2019.
The new school would be constructed behind the current elementary school, which has several advantages. First, building the school at this location will allow us to keep our students in the current building throughout construction. We would not need to bring in portables or find other locations for classrooms during construction. In addition, because the elementary school will continue to house the K-12 cafeteria and kitchen, placing the new school close to the junior-senior high school will allow this continued use. Second, the ground elevation is higher. Though the new school will still be elevated and built on concrete piling, the higher elevation will help mitigate potential flooding. Finally, moving the new school back from the current building allows us to construct a bus drop-off/pick-up zone as part of a new bus loop. This will enhance student safety and remove our buses from First Street both before and after school.
Building a new school gives us the opportunity to provide larger instructional spaces, modern fixtures, restrooms, utilities, enhanced security and safety provisions, and other vital functions found in 21st century schools. Overall, the new school will be a building that enhances teaching and learning. It will be a school that makes our students, staff, and community proud.
As superintendent, my desire is to be sure all voters receive answers to any questions they may have about this project. Please feel free to contact myself or any of our South Bend school board members with questions.