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Blair Oaks gathers input on new high school funding

Blair Oaks gathers input on new high school funding

July 20th, 2018 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

Members of the community listen Thursday as Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones leads a public information meeting at Blair Oaks Elementary School regarding the possibility of a new high school before the board has to decide in August whether they want to raise the district's debt service levy without voter approval to get the process started earlier.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

With nearly 70 hands raised, the majority of attendees Thursday at the Blair Oaks School District's first informational meeting showed support for increasing the district's debt service levy in August to fund construction of a new high school.

The meeting was one of two the Blair Oaks R-2 Board of Education is holding to see how the local community feels about proposals to fund the potential new high school construction. The second meeting will be at 7 p.m. July 31 at the Blair Oaks Elementary School gym.

The school board has until its Aug. 14 meeting to decide if it wants to raise the district's debt service levy by 30 cents, from $0.91 to $1.21 — without voter approval — or if board members want to wait until the April 2019 election to ask voters to increase the debt service levy by the same amount.

If board members raise the debt service levy next month, it would allow the district to save $52,000 in interest payments. If the board waits until the April 2019 ballot to ask voters, the district would save only $16,000 in interest payments.

"When you take a look at option one (raising the debt service levy in August), the amount of savings on the front end — the $52,000 versus $16,000 — you may say that's pretty insignificant when it comes to the board saving these patrons that money, but every dollar is important," Superintendent Jim Jones said. "Option one is really hard to go against when you look at those numbers."

Raising the debt service levy in August would allow the district to ask voters to approve a bond issue to construct a new high school with a bonding capacity that would be a couple of hundred thousand dollars larger.

If the board raises the debt service levy next month, the district would present two no-tax increase bond issue questions instead of one in upcoming elections that would fund the two-phase new high school construction plan.

"The opportunity to build this new school is great," attendee Robert Ritchey said. "Option one (increasing the debt service levy in August) is absolutely what we're leaning toward. We want to see it happen for our kids who would still get the opportunity to enjoy it."

The new high school would be constructed in two phases, with the first phase costing an anticipated $14 million. The second phase would cost up to $4.75 million.

If the debt service levy was raised by a lower amount, that would limit the district and push phase two off to a later date, Jones said.

Board member Nicki Russell said it made the board "feel very comfortable" seeing the majority of attendees say they supported increasing the debt service levy in August.

"This is the kind of information we want to get so that we know how we should vote," she said. "We want to do what the community wants us to do so seeing the overwhelming response, that gives us a clear direction."

The second meeting later this month could have a different response, though, Russell added.

A new high school would be for ninth through 12th grades and be approximately 114,000 square feet, including a 600-seat auditorium and a 2,000-seat gym when completed. It would be located across the street to the east of the Blair Oaks Middle School.

The building is expected to open for ninth through 12th grades in August 2021, Jones said. If the second phase is approved and completed, the whole building would be in operation by August 2025.

If the new high school is constructed, several grades would move around. Once the new high school is completed, the elementary school building would host kindergarten through second grades, the middle school building would hold third through fifth grades and the current high school building would have sixth through eighth grades. There would be room in all four buildings for growth, Jones said.