MUSCODA - Approximately 20 people gathered in the Riverdale High School gym Thursday evening Feb. 25 to address the upcoming proposed referendum which is set to be voted on April 6.
The question on the ballot will ask voters to exceed the revenue limit for non-recurring purposes by $315,000 per year for debt service for construction which includes :
Four new classrooms
Six new toilet rooms
A new Agriculture Classroom
A new secure entry
Renovation to a portion of the library to create a middle school common space
Renovate the original Ag room to become the new art room
Widen the main hallway by removing current lockers
Renovate the original Admin area (this will include two of the new restrooms that would be accessible to the public during games etc.)
Provide site work associated with the addition scope
Install new ventilation in current Ag room
And renovate two existing restrooms for ADA code compliance.
This would be for the 2022-23 school year through the 2040-2041 school year. And by $385,000 per year for maintaining educational and operational services, for the 2022-23 school year through the 2026-27 school year (for a total of $700,000 per year for the 2022-23 school year through the 2026-27 school year and a total of $315,000 per year for the 2027-28 school year through the 2040-41 school year.
District Administrator Jon Schmidt shared with the crowd that prior to COVID the school had been exploring the needs of the building and the district.
“We realized we have space issues, and we looked at what does the building need, and they gave suggestions and we made a presentation to the board, and then COVID hit and the school went virtual. But even though COVID had its own problems, we still had these issues that we needed to address at some point,” Schmidt explained. “We realized looking forward we are going to be through COVID at some point and we will still have these problems.”
On the school districts website there is a “Frequently Asked Questions” portion in regards to the referendum which also covered several of the talking points Schmidt addressed at the meeting.
One of the top questions is ‘Why are there two dates on the ballot question?’
The district provides the following answer:
“There are two purposes for the funds, if approved. The first purpose of the referendum question is for funding to support day-to-day operations. The District is asking for five more years of funding to close the gap between what the district can levy in taxes and what is needed for operating the schools at the current level. That portion of the request expires 2026-27 school year. The second purpose of the funding is to pay debt for building improvements. That portion of the referendum assumes a 20 year loan is secured by the District for those improvements and the debt would be paid in 2040-41 school year.”
Another one of the FAQs listed on the form is “What is the need for this referendum?”
The District answers, “The Board of Education hopes to continue to modernize programming to provide more hands-on and collaborative learning opportunities. The operational referendum will be used for the following purposes:
• Address Budget Shortfalls: Short falls are projected now and into the foreseeable future, but the shortfall is less than it was five years ago. Voters approved an $600,000 operating referendum that will expire with the December 2021 tax bill and the board is seeking to renew it.
•Sustain Educational Opportunities for Students: If approved, a portion of the funds will maintain programs and staff.
•Improve Learning Environments: A facility study identified repairs and renovations that are needed across the district. A portion of the funds will pay debt incurred to complete the improvements.
The document explains that the purpose of the referendum in improving educational programming will include maintaining existing educational programs and staff, enhance Junior High programming, sustain and improve positive student achievement results, add and modernize agricultural classrooms and renovate the existing art room, provide a dedicated Junior High wing and reduce class sizes in grades seven through nine, create a Junior High common area for small and large group collaboration to meet individual student needs. Additionally facility renovations and repairs are also planned. Those include renovations in the front entrance to enhance security, improve the ventilation systems in the tech education center, add and renovate existing restrooms to accommodate students and ensure ADA compliance, and complete site work for the addition and building renovations.
The question has also been raised on the FAQ document of “Why did the district move the seventh and eighth grade students to the high school if there wasn’t enough room? Can they be moved back?
The district answers: “A dedicated wing for seventh and eighth grades will provide opportunities for students to discover their passions and explore their interests with hands-on, project-based learning opportunities. This age of students benefits greatly from the programming and facilities offered at the high school. Further, early childhood is an essential time in a child’s education. HeadState is now at the elementary school and with this, the District’s 4K program is also at the elementary. When we moved the seventh and eighth graders we expanded the 4K program from two days per week to five days per week and that has been successful. If we keep growing and open enrollment comes in, we’ve learned from COVID that smaller classrooms get more done, and having space is essential. We feel the way things are going it would be extremely complimentary to our program to do an expansion with the Art and Ag rooms,” Schmidt noted.
Schmidt also touched on this sharing with the group that having the 4K program can impact the number of students who open enroll out of the district.
“We’ve discovered that the 4K program keeps the kids in the district,” Schmidt explained. “When Mr. Bird was here he called 60 families who open enrolled out and the majority of them did so because we didn’t have 4K to keep them here, THey enrolled out to where they could get 4K or daycare accessible and ended up building friendships and foundations in those districts and stayed for the duration of their schooling.”
Of course, the big question is the financial impact that this referendum would hold.
Schmidt shared that the district hopes to run this referendum at this time to take advantage of historically low interest rates that are happening right now.
“The referendum would not kick in until 2022, but this would still allow us to take advantage of this good interest rate and hope by the time it kicks in we’re pulling out of the pandemic and we’ve taken something positive from it like this interest rate,” Schmidt expressed.
Additionally the district notes on its FAQ page, “The District has used good fiscal management principles to keep the tax mill rate low. For the past two years it has decreased the tax mill rate for property owners. Even with the estimated increase from the requested operating referendum, the estimated tax mill rate will likely remain below the historical mill rate. The projected increase in 2022 for the approved operating referendum is $27 per year, for a $100,000 property. In December 2023 the estimated increase declines to $18 per year for $100,000 property because the tax mill rate will decline again.”
Schmidt explained that categorical aid from the state will help make the second year lower.
One community member asked what the timeline would be, should the referendum pass.
Schmidt shared that the “timeline for building is normally contingent on the referendum. If it passes we’d want to get wheels on the ground this summer to start work and hopefully finish next summer.
Over all the crowd said very little on their opinions or with questions. There was only one openly opposed citizen who shared his views with the administrator and group.
“I think it’s a poor time to be asking for money,” the citizen shared. “That $27 doesn’t sound like much but it’s going to kill us and it’s way too long for 19 years. You’re taxing us out of existence.”Additional information regarding the referendum is available on the school districts website.