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JC Schools April bond issue would build new early childhood center, expand career center if approved

by Anna Campbell | March 12, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Anna Campbell/News Tribune photo: JC Schools Superintendent Bryan McGraw presents on Proposition 'Kids First" at community meeting prior to the regular school board meeting.

The Jefferson City School District plans to build a new early childhood center, renovate both middle schools and expand Nichols Career Center if the community approves an April 4 bond issue.

The bond issue, nicknamed the "Kids FIRST" proposition, would fund the construction of a new early childhood center that would double the district's capacity from 150 to 300 preschoolers, renovate both 30-year-old middle schools, upgrade technology for preschool through eighth-grade classrooms, expand Nichols Career Center's facilities and course offerings, and replace sound and lighting systems at the Miller Performing Arts Center.

There are also other items on the list:

A renovation of wiring, plumbing, lighting, windows, relocation of common areas and more parking at Southwest Early Childhood Center, which would then house the Jefferson City Academic Center.

A remodel of JCAC, turning vacated classroom spaces into community meeting spaces and the gym into an employee wellness center.

Belair Elementary remodel of bathrooms, water runoff correction and additional driveway and updated wiring, plumbing and lighting.

Paying off Energy Savings Certificate of Participation, which would free up about $820,000 of operating expenses each year, with the hopes of putting that money toward salaries, benefits and other operating expenses.

Completing athletic facilities, including items that were postponed due to rising costs such as tennis courts, soccer and baseball bleachers, and scoreboard technology housing at JCHS and locker rooms, visitor bleachers, parking lots and housing for scoreboard technology at CCHS.

The district's current tax rate is $4.79, and whether the bond issue were to pass or fail, it would remain unchanged. Superintendent Bryan McGraw said in a community presentation on the bond issue that the tax levy is low compared to other similar-sized districts, which average around $5.30.

The district's expected bonding capacity will be $85 million in 2023. Bonds would be split into two issuances over the next four or five years, and each would be a 20-year bond with a conservatively estimated interest rate of 5 percent.

The district said Proposition J+C, which was passed by voters in 2017 and funded the construction of Capital City High School, was set up with the intention of allowing the district to come back to voters every five to 10 years for no tax rate increase bond issues to address long-term facility needs. That allows the district to keep up with its needs while keeping a stable tax rate, the district said.

"The district has been paying on the J+C bonds for the past six years. Those bonds will continue through 2038 and the current tax rate will not change, regardless of whether the bond issue passes or fails on April 4th," it said. "Effective management of funds allows the district to seek approval for an additional $85 million in bonds within the current borrowing capacity without increasing the tax rate. If the bond issue is approved by voters in April, the district's bonds, and the current tax rate, would continue through 2045."

To pass, the bond issue will have to garner a 4/7 majority of the vote, or 57.14 percent.

The timeline is as follows:

In spring 2023, the district would begin construction of the early childhood center, technology upgrades, energy efficiency, and Miller Center sound and lighting. The early childhood center would be completed in summer 2025 and the other projects would be completed within 2023.

The Nichols expansion would begin summer 2023 and be completed in fall 2024.

The Belair renovations would begin in spring 2024 and be completed in the summer.

Southwest Early Childhood Center renovations would begin spring 2025 and be completed fall 2026.

The Thomas Jefferson Middle School renovation would begin in spring 2026, and the Lewis and Clark Middle School renovation would begin in summer 2026, with both to be completed in the summer.

The athletic facilities construction would begin in spring 2026 and be completed in summer 2027.

JCAC renovations would begin in spring 2026 and be completed in summer 2027.

Overseeing the campaign for the proposition are former Mayor John Landwehr, JC Schools parent and alumni Ashley Freeman, and retired teacher and alumni Joni Henderson.

"I believe so strongly in kids, and I believe in our school system, and a strong school system makes for a strong community," Henderson said.

Landwehr said the vitality of the school system is a key part of Jefferson City's economic development.

Henderson said the campaign is low-budget, and much of it will be using social media to get the word out. The campaign has been visiting each school to give information and has given presentations to many community groups. Any group that wants to receive a presentation can reach out to [email protected]

"We want to encourage folks that might otherwise stay home to get out and vote on this measure," Landwehr said.

"We think that the expansion of the early childhood program for our residents is critically important and a great investment because, as Joni will tell you, if we can catch kids when they are 4 and 5 years old, and they can begin to have kind of an academic experience, where they begin to learn basic things -- the alphabet, numbers, other elements of that early childhood -- as they begin their formal education in grade school, first and second and third grade, they are up to speed and they are ready to excel and succeed academically," Landwehr said.

Henderson said it also meets the need of families that may not have childcare.

Children who attend preschool have a greater chance of academic success and a greater chance of attending college and a smaller chance of dropping out of school or being involved in the criminal justice system, Henderson said.

The early childhood center portion of the proposal garnered the most interest at the community meeting Thursday.

The early childhood center would be available to all preschool students in the community. In the event of greater interest than 300 students, McGraw said the district would have a lottery system.

"From a taxpayer standpoint, if I had a dollar to spend on public education, I think I would spend 90 cents of it on early childhood," Landwehr said.

Print Headline: JC Schools April bond issue would build new early childhood center, expand career center if approved


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