After voters rejected the capital improvement bond proposed in the February election, the Chewelah School District Board of Directors opted to not re-run the same proposal in April.
The board will decide later if the district should run a similar campaign during the August special election, postponing the vote for a new bond resolution at the Feb. 20 meeting.
February’s capital bond proposal for a complete renovation of Jenkins High School to accommodate 7-12 grades had 55 percent approval although 60 percent was needed to pass with a supermajority. Director Larry Kristiansen said that would require about 300 additional yes votes without anymore no votes, or turning 121 rejections into approvals. The election had a 46 percent voter turnout for the district with 2,453 total ballots cast.
Whether or not the bond is re-run in August, Superintendent Rick Linehan said the district will move forward with its plan to consolidate to two buildings, moving the seventh and eighth grade Jenkins Middle School students to JHS starting fall 2013. Linehan said it is not sustainable to keep all three buildings open with the continued decline in enrollment and anticipated staff resignations. The school district is funded by FTE (full-time equivalent) enrollment and estimates 788 students in 2013-2014.
“We have to consolidate to stay fiscally prudent,” Linehan said.
The JMS building may be shut down in phases as there is not enough gymnasium or science lab space at JHS to fit the additional middle school classes. It costs about $76,000 a year to heat the entire JMS building so using less space will reduce that utility bill, Linehan said, although the exact savings are unknown. “The real savings is in personnel,” he said.
The JMS building was open in 2012-13 for the possibility of using the school during construction of JHS if the bond passed.
The school district will likely need to purchase, or at least rent, another double portable classroom that costs at least $120,000 for the structure. Additional cost is required for transportation of the unit plus other necessities such as installation of working plumbing. It would cost even more to turn it into a science lab, Linehan said.
Further discussion on how best to transition the middle school to the high school will take place in the coming months.
Directors Loretta Burkey, Deanna Norvell, Tim Whitley and Clint Kirry said the capital bond proposal should be on the ballot in August and should remain at the original bond amount of $9.9 million for a complete renovation and expansion of Jenkins High School and the surrounding complex, qualifying it for another $9.8 in state matching funds for capital school projects. This amount would cost property owners $1.62 per $1,000 of assessed property value (previously it was estimated to cost $1.64 per $1,000 APV.)
Director Larry Kristiansen said he thinks they would be more successful if the additional unmatched $500,000 for upgrades to Gess Elementary was removed from the plan as some voters have asked, “What’s Gess got to do with it?”
Linehan said the district wanted to add the portion for Gess to pay for upgrades that would help it last for another 20 years, like replacing the windows and heating system, so as to not need to remodel both buildings.
The proposal without the additional funding for Gess would be a $9,449,000 bond, or $1.52 per $1,000 assessed property value.
Chewelah Citizens for Kids committee chairs in attendance at the board meeting, Maegan George, Diane Evans, Sherri Hansen and Kevin Herda, also recommended that the board wait until August, giving them more time to rethink a new campaign strategy.
Hansen said they are concerned about losing the momentum for the work they have put into the campaign, but April would have been a bad time for the community with first half of property taxes due and a higher area unemployment rate in the spring.
Director Norvell said they should also consider the city’s proposal for the annexation of the Chewelah Public Library into the Stevens County Rural Library District, which will be a part of the April 23 election for city residents. She said they would not want to jeopardize those results by putting another tax initiative on the same ballot. Linehan agreed April does not have a good history for voter approval in the area.
The committee chairs also recommended that the board run the bond for the same amount with the same plan. Norvell said some people believe the district was asking too much already and taking anything away would confirm that belief even though they do not think that is correct.
Linehan also said the district did not ask for the “Cadillac plan” as some citizens think. Both Gess and Jenkins High School could have been completely remodeled at the same time for a $15 million bond, qualifying the project for an additional $15 million in state match.
A track was added on to the plan behind JHS at Barbour Complex because it is the only time it would qualify for 50 percent state match since it would be on the same site as the building renovation.
Linehan said some citizens have also argued that they should not need to renovate the entire school but instead should just add the additional 19,500 square feet of new classrooms to accommodate the seventh and eighth grade with minimal cost and construction. He said the expansion could be done for around $6 million, but would not qualify for state matching funds since the state requires the entire building to be remodeled. So spending another $4 million with a goal of complete renovation allows the project to qualify for 50 percent state match, turning that additional $4 million into another $14 million thus making it a $20 million project. The current JHS building was built in the 1970s.
Committee member Hansen said it would be helpful if they were more specific on the plans and opened tours to the high school to explain exactly what modernization of the entire building would change and why it is necessary.
Waiting until August for a chance to pass the bond will delay construction an additional year, so the two-year project would not start earlier than the summer of 2015.
State match for capital school projects is money allocated by the state from a portion of the timber tax collection.
In other business, Pat Gaffney delivered the JMS annual report at the school board meeting, which was held at JMS. He reported all of the school’s accomplishments and achievements in the last year following a short video clip Principal Jon Symonds put together while he is away recovering from major injury. Gaffney said the 2012 6-8 graders beat the state average in all subjects (reading, math and writing and science) on the state MSP (Measurement of Student Progress) test.
Also, in addition to receiving its third consecutive School of Distinction Award for continuous improvement in 2012, JMS ranks on the top according to the recently released Washington State Achievement Index, scoring 6.44 out of 7. This makes Jenkins Middle School the top three school out of all public middle schools in the state and first out of this area. The WAI is a snapshot of a school’s performance based on state assessments.
There are currently 110 7-8 grade students attending JMS. On March 29, the entire school will participate in a science culminating event to visit the IMAX theatre in Spokane to see “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets.” Chewelah PTSA is helping fund the event.
Linehan reported that a working ADA Wheelchair Lift to be installed at Jenkins Middle School will cost around $14,000 and is necessary for Symonds to be able to go up and down each floor of the three-floor building.
The board approved the policy and procedure for alternative and extended learning. HomeLink and alternative school Principal Matt McLain said the programs comply with all state laws and use the state’s language to remain properly funded. ALE (Alternative Learning Experience) students are funded at 80 percent if they have regular direct personal contact with staff, and 90 percent if they have regular face-to-face contact at least once a week.
The board approved the change to the Nave Sety Scholarship agreement to be able to continue funding an annual $1,000 scholarship for one senior student by utilizing any accrued interest over the original donation of $100,000. There is about $110,000 in the account currently, and due to low interest rates, the annual interest will not fund a full scholarship.
Aubrey Markel has been hired as the middle school assistant track coach and Pat Gaffney resigned as JV softball coach and the open position has been posted.
The JMS and JHS student clubs and fees for 2013-14 were also approved.
The next school board meeting will be March 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the District Office. Included in the agenda will be a discussion on firearms in schools in response to the recent case against Colville fifth graders who plotted to kill a classmate.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff