POMONA — West Franklin is an exceptional school district, one school official said, but even the best school districts must face the reality of difficult decisions.
“We’re very fortunate. We have great schools and we have great staff,” Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin school superintendent, told a room full of district patrons Wednesday. “We have many things to be proud of, and we have many things to be thankful for.”
Bradbury, along with members of the school board, an architect and a contractor, made the case this week for a bond election in the West Franklin school district. Wednesday’s gathering in the West Franklin High School multi-purpose room was the last of three information meetings the district planned to discus the bond issue before setting a date for a bond election.
“At the March [school] board meeting, the board will be asked to pass a resolution approving a bond election to be held the first week of June,” Bradbury said in a November interview. The resolution is expected to include an amount for the proposed bond.
The school officials were met Wednesday by more than 100 patrons — some in support of the measure to address aging facilities, declining enrollment and shrinking state aid, others adamantly opposed to it.
While some residents’ chief concern about the bond issue was the potential population shift from Willliamsburg and the surrounding area caused by consolidating West Franklin’s school campuses in Pomona, most patrons gathered Wednesday were worried about the cost of a bond issue on taxpayers.
The mill levy increase, used to determine the increase in tax on property within the district, would depend on the amount of the bond issue. PiperJaffray, an independent assessment management firm, provided calculations for the cost of the bond.
With 30-year financing, a $10 million bond would increase the current mill levy, 49.015, to 58.881; an increase of 9.866 mills. For a $14 million bond, the mill would increase by 13.813 to 62.828 mills. A $15 million would increase the mill levy by 14.794 to 63.809 mills.
On a $100,000 home, the annual property taxes incurred from the school district’s mill levy would increase by $112.70, $157.55 and $168.48 respectively. Those figures do not include taxation from other entities like city and county governments.
Included in PiperJaffray’s figures, however, is the current 25 percent state aid on bond and interest provided to schools.
In an attempt to defer some of the costs associated with the bond, the district would rely on the 25 percent state aid on bond and interest. Unfortunately, Bradbury said, that assistance expires July 1 — causing the school board’s rush for a bond election. If, for example, the state aid program is not renewed, each of the mill increase figures would be raised by 25 percent (9.866 increases to 12.332). Those increases would be passed along to the taxpayer, Bradbury said.
“Right now, for every dollar that patrons would authorize in a mill levy, the state will kick in 25 cents,” he said. “We’re about to lose that. So that’s the reason for the rush.”
If a bond issue passes, the state aid would be available for the duration of the bond, Bradbury said.
West Franklin currently has the lowest mill levy of any school district in the county, more than 12 mills less than the highest —Wellsville at 61.082 mills.
The amounts of the bond issue are centered around two “visions” for the future of the school district. Developed by a 14-person committee, the project’s vision statement includes two options: bringing all elementary students to the Pomona campus, consolidating the district; or maintaining all three campuses and making improvements to the existing facilities.
Both options would be aimed at increasing the district’s operational efficiency.
Facility improvements involved with the first option would include additions to the existing middle school to accommodate an influx of elementary school students, a new varsity gym and a new vocational-agriculture/wood shop. The changes would cost about $15.9 million after adding in such additional improvements as new heating and air units, as well as upgraded electrical service, security systems and roof repairs.
“We thought the wisest use of the money would be to reuse as much as we can,” Burke Jones, architect for Howard Helmer of Overland Park, said.
The goal is to have construction finished and facilities operational by fall 2015, Jones said, if the bond issue is approved by voters.
In comparison, the total cost of the second option is estimated at about $15.2 million. It includes improvements to both the Appanoose ($1.475 million) and Williamsburg ($2.721 million) campuses, a new gym and vocational-agriculture/wood shop at the Pomona campus and such additional improvements as heating and air unit replacement and new security measures on each of the three campuses.
The figures associated with the two vision options are not hard-bid numbers, Jones said, but instead were generated with the help of the contractor at risk, Nabholz Construction, Olathe. Each segment of the project would be put out for bid to get the best possible price from subcontractors.
Once a bond amount is set (presuming the success of a bond election), the contractor at risk would be tasked with completing the necessary improvements based on the stated amount. If the project goes over that amount, the contractor at risk incurs the cost, Jon Pahl, with Nabholz Construction, said.
“It’s our risk, it’s not your risk as the owner,” Pahl said.
West Franklin’s future
Will the school district be able to continue educating students if it doesn’t have, for example, an all-weather track that could cost as much as $350,000? The answer is yes, Bradbury said.
Regardless of the bond election’s outcome, Bradbury said, seeking to reassure patrons, the district will continue with its primary mission: education.
One patron asked about the possibility of the West Franklin school district being dissolved even after a successful bond election, with the students being bused to other districts, and leaving the remaining bond amount to be paid by local patrons of a school district no longer in existence.
In that unlikely scenario, Bradbury said, paying the remainder of the bond would be the responsibility of the former West Franklin patrons, not the patrons of the school districts to which the students would be bused. But the threat of West Franklin’s closure and consolidation into other districts isn’t on the horizon, he said.
“The current administration — I’m talking about the governor and Legislature — has no desire to consolidate districts,”Bradbury said. “That is not their goal.”
While the school district’s existing facilities need infrastructure improvements, he said, if the bond issue fails, it will not mean the end of the district. It simply will mean the infrastructure fixes won’t be done all at once. Money would need to be set aside each year for specific improvements.
Talks on long-range facilities planning are expected to continue at the school board’s regular monthly meeting 7 p.m. Monday at the West Franklin education center, 511 E. Franklin St., Pomona.