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Staff: Operating two high schools could get pricey

Raising enough to money to build a new school isn’t the only hurdle civic leaders face; operating the new facility also comes at a price, a committee looking at long-range plans for the Jefferson City public schools learned recently.

At the meeting, Chief Financial Officer Jason Hoffman estimated that operating a 12th elementary — the district currently has 11 — would cost $2.05 million. Hoffman believes the district would have to outlay an additional $1.75 million in salary and benefits; $120,000 for three additional bus routes; and $180,000 in utilities, custodial supplies, property insurance, etc., for a new elementary.

Raising that kind of cash for a 12th elementary would require an additional 17-cent operating levy, on top of the $3.4714 per $100 of assessed valuation that district patrons currently pay.

Hoffman said calculating the expenses of a new elementary school are fairly straight forward. Estimating the expense of a second high school is more complex.

“There are many things to consider,” he told the group.

When drawing up estimates for a high school, Hoffman took into consideration the number of teachers, administrators, secretaries, nurses and coaches the district would have to hire. He also figured in the transportation costs for both new bus routes and extracurricular activities. And he looked at what it would cost to maintain another senior high.

The district already operates three secondary schools— Simonsen 9th Grade Center, the campus at 609 Union St. and the Jefferson City Academic Center.

Hoffman estimated it would take an addition 19 teachers — at a cost of $1.09 million — to convert from the current arrangement to two comprehensive 9-12 senior high facilities.

He estimated the average cost of a full-time certified employee at $57,210.

Some of the departments — science, social studies, debate, art, in-school suspension and the guidance counselors — could be divided in half to serve both buildings, but other departments can’t be split as easily.

If a second senior high is built, the district likely would have to hire new faculty to teach English, theater, journalism, choir and orchestra and English as a Second Language. Another social worker might be necessary, as well.

Foreign languages are a particular budget-buster.

With six instructors, the Spanish Department can be divided in half. But the current high school only has single teachers for French, Latin and German. He estimated it would cost $171,630 to hire three more foreign language teachers.

Three faculty currently teach band; Hoffman said it would take an additional three faculty to staff the new high school, at a cost of $171,630.

Doubling the number of teachers for the tech programs — woodworking, metals, engineering and bio-medical — would be the largest cost driver. Expanding the number of technology teachers from four to eight would cost the district $228,840, Hoffman estimated.

“Those programs need to be offered at both schools,” he said.

Hoffman also suggested the district would have to spend an additional $297,832 on administrative support staff. Although the district has enough administrators to staff a second high school, it doesn’t have enough secretaries, clerks, registrars, receptionists and aides for the library and nurse’s office.

Opening a new high school also will require the district to shell out $430,000 for coaching and other activity stipends.

Finally, a second school means more maintenance, custodial and food service expenses. He estimated an additional $660,000 to keep the landscape mowed; pay for property insurance; cover utility bills and pay custodians and other maintenance workers.

However, building a second senior high could save a little —$120,000 — on busing.

That could be accomplished by combining some of Thomas Jefferson Middle School’s routes with the new high school’s.

“We could be more efficient in our routes,” Hoffman said.

“Taken altogether, the cost of a operating a second high school is $2.5 million,” he told the group.

To pay for that would require about 21.4 cents in additional taxes.

Hoffman said a levy increase would be necessary if the district builds a second high school. If the district decides to renovate the existing high school campus, the extra operating funds wouldn’t be necessary, he noted.

The school district depends on two levies: a debt service levy of $.2220 that funds primarily construction projects and an operating levy of $3.4714 that funds salaries, utilities, supplies, etc.

The total levy is $3.6934.

The initial construction costs of building one or two high schools is not the main driver, Hoffman noted. He estimates it will take an additional 42-cent levy to upgrade the existing campus at 609 Union St. into a new facility capable of handling all of the district’s 9-12 students and 48 cents to build two high schools.

“That’s only a 6-cent difference,” he said.

However, the 21.4 cents in additional taxes to operate the second high school will impose a cost to taxpayers, he said.

As he shared the information about what it would cost to operate additional schools, Hoffman said his analysis didn’t account for all of the district’s safety and security needs, the cost of professional development and technology investments.

He also said operating a single high school would result in some savings over the current set up.

“We should see some operational savings by not operating both Simonsen and Jefferson City High School,” he said.

Whether the high school operates as an academy with seven career paths, or as a traditional high school, won’t make a difference.

“The costs are the same,” he said.

But block scheduling — when the day is divided into four classes — does increase the cost of operations.

Hoffman said school administrators have a preference that every teacher be assigned his or her own classroom. Asking teachers to move from classroom to classroom, a la the university model, would save about $2 million in construction costs and a half-cent of savings in debt-service, he noted.

“We feel it is in in the best interest of our professional staff to have their own space. We do not feel that cost is worth the inconvenience and lost instruction time that would go along with sharing classrooms for our teachers,” he said.

Others cautioned against the idea as well.

Kenny Southwick, who has been facilitating the meetings, said: “You will not allow any room for expansion and you’ll be out of space.”

Lonnie Schneider, a former JCHS teacher, said: “From a high school perspective, every teacher needs a work area. Traveling teachers sometimes take a cart, but it’s just not efficient.”

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