The superintendent along with school board president and vice president of the Blair Oaks R-2 district said Tuesday night that a new high school is the blueprint for the future the district should follow.
A new high school is "not just the highest priority, but it is the priority," Blair Oaks' Superintendent Jim Jones said at a forum hosted by the News Tribune at Blair Oaks Middle School that featured a school board candidate forum and a separate portion wherein school district leaders gave information on the district's proposed bond issue and operating tax levy increase.
Voters in the school district will be asked on the April 2 ballot whether to approve a $14 million bond issue to pay for the first phase of a new high school, and whether to approve a 30-cent increase to the district's operating tax levy to pay for a new high school's staff, maintenance, utilities and other needs.
A 30-cent operating levy increase would mean owners of a home in the district valued at $200,000 would pay $114 more a year in property taxes.
Blair Oaks Board of Education's President Peggy Luebbert and Vice President John Weber both said they hope everyone votes in favor of the two ballot propositions about a new high school. Weber said he wants the district to be proactive, and Luebbert added "you can't say no to the kids."
"This is the future, and we need to vote for the future," she said.
Jones said when the land for a new high school across Falcon Lane from the current Blair Oaks Middle School was bought in 2011, the thought was and still is that "the comprehensive plan for this district is a high school. What it would do is provide a mechanism to address enrollment increases across the district."
He said that since the district's middle school opened — about a decade ago — the high school has added 83 students; the elementary school, 75 students; and the middle school, 153 students.
If the bond issue on April's ballot fails, Jones said "mobile units will continue to be added as we revise our plan."
Following the addition of a new high school to the district, he said there would be a grades K-2 elementary school in the current elementary building that would eventually also include a preschool program. Having a new high school "gives us the ability to have a place to house pre-K education," he said.
The current middle school would become a grades 3-5 building, and the current high school would become the site for the district's middle school.
Jones said having four buildings "isn't the most efficient model when it comes to the cost of classified staff," but the inefficiency will be outweighed by the educational effectiveness of teachers and administrators knowing every student and vice versa.
The proposed operating levy increase would pay for the addition of four teachers and equivalent of 9.5 other staff — three custodians, two and a half food service workers, two administrative assistants, a library aide and a health room aide — to cover the needs of having a fourth building in the district.
Jones said the sooner the district can start collecting money to pay for those new staff, the less it will have to ask for in an operating levy increase — waiting until next year could mean having to ask for a 40-cent increase, and waiting until the same year as the proposed opening of the high school's first phase in 2021 could mean asking for a 50-cent increase.
If only the operating levy were to pass this year, and not the bond issue question, Jones said the district could use the increase to add an additional teacher at the elementary school and an additional teacher in special services — "probably two of our highest priorities" — as well as looking at adding staff in the math and English departments at the high school.
However, he said the school board would probably choose to reduce the operating levy — "If we're not going to need it, we're probably not going to have it."
Jones said the district would host public meetings on the ballot questions March 21 and March 28 at Blair Oaks Elementary School; he did not know the exact time.
Watch the archived video of Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones explaining the bond issue and levy increase on the ballot on the News Tribune's YouTube channel here (at the beginning of the video).
Watch the archived video of the five candidates answering questions about Blair Oaks school issues on the News Tribune's YouTube channel here (at the 59:50 mark in the video).