Thursday, Feb. 20


District 27 board mulls funding

[FEB. 20, 2003]  The District 27 Elementary School Board is still searching for ways to plug the funding gap between the projected cost of building the new junior high school and the money it has available.

Cost to build the new school as originally planned, including demolition of the present building, will be $7,444,831, according to Bill Ahal of the construction management firm of S.M. Wilson. This is at least $1.7 million more than the district has left from the $12.4 originally estimated for its complete building project, which includes construction of the new Central School, currently under way, and eventual demolition of both existing buildings.

At its Wednesday night meeting, the board looked at the possibility of issuing bonds or other financial instruments to secure more funding. Kevin Heid of First Midstate Investment Bankers of Bloomington presented several ideas for closing the funding gap, including one that would not be an extra cost to taxpayers.

Because District 27, unlike about 80 percent of the other school districts in the state, is presently in good financial shape, the district has the power to issue bonds or notes to complete funding for the construction projects. A recent state report gave the district an overall rating of 3.7 out of a possible four for financial stability.


According to the formula outlined in state statues, the district at present has the ability to issue another $2.9 million in bonds. It could issue Working Cash Fund bonds, alternate revenue bonds or debt certificates. According to board president Bruce Carmitchel, the working cash and alternate revenue bonds would require a tax increase, but the debt certificates would be paid out of current revenue and would not increase costs to district taxpayers.

Although the debt certificates have some disadvantages, such as slightly higher interest rates, Carmitchel said he is looking favorably at that solution right now.

"I don't think our first reaction should be to ask for a referendum or a tax increase. I think we should look at everything else first. I think the public wants us to keep our own house in order and solve the problem ourselves if we possibly can."

This is a favorable time to issue debt certificates, Heid said, because of the low interest crates. The interest rate would be locked in for the life of the certificates, which could be 15 or 20 years. Issuing debt certificates does not require a published notice or a public hearing, like bond issues, because it is not an added cost to taxpayers.

Carmitchel said the district would look at figures, including how much per year the district would have to pay out of current revenue for the debt certificates, to be sure it can handle the extra debt load without any negative impact on the education program.

The board has called a special meeting for Wednesday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m. at Northwest School to go over the bonding possibilities and get firm numbers on costs.

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Right now the board is looking at funding the original plan for the new junior high, which will house grades six, seven and eight. This 54,000-square-foot plan includes a three-story classroom wing and a stage. The board also looked at a pared-down plan of 50,400 square feet and no stage and could go back to that plan if necessary. However, Carmitchel said he wants to see figures for the "worst case scenario," the most costly but most desirable plan, before making any decision.

The $7,444,831 figure presented by Ahal is based on comparisons of costs of other schools of the same size being built in the area, but the figure does not include costs for furniture, fixtures or equipment. Complete new furnishings would bring the cost to $7,883,000, Ahal said. Superintendent Robert Kidd said the district has bought some new furniture in the last four or five years which can be used in the new building. Furniture, fixtures and equipment can also be purchased out of other funds and does not all have to come from the building fund, he said.

Although the figures are only estimates, Ahal said he doesn't expect the building costs for the junior high to be higher than those for Central School because "the markets are looking for work."

The board was unpleasantly surprised when costs for Central went well over estimates. The cost of that school right now is projected at about $6,342,000, Carmitchel said, including demolition of the current Central School but not including furniture, fixtures and equipment.


To get a firmer handle on upcoming costs, the board agreed to get bids for the demolition of the two schools to be sure that is in line with estimates.

In other business, the board announced that the eighth-grade team from Lincoln Junior High School won the Thinking Cap Quiz Bowl, a statewide academic contest. Lincoln's team scored 1,263 points, or 94 percent correct answers, to win over 63 other contestants from all over the state. Second-place winner was Holy Trinity School in Bloomington with 1,235 points. Third place went to Gemini Junior High School at Niles with 1,186 points. Holy Trinity also won the seventh-grade competition.

Dr. Kidd announced board scholars for the past nine-week grading period. To be a board scholar, the student must earn A's in every class, including gym and music.

Seventh-grade board scholars are Kelsey Dallas, Jaci Gandenberger, Daniel Garrett, Alexandra Huerd, Rebecca Kasa and Jessica Owen. Eighth-grade scholars are Jonathon Leisinger, Brandon Rahn, Hannah Snyder and Tim Wiser.

[Joan Crabb]

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