Friday, January 18, 2013
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CEL school board shifts finance plan to complete construction before 2014 deadline

Health, life safety bonds will fund $2.5 million project

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[January 18, 2013]  Tuesday night's meeting of the Chester-East Lincoln Board of Education was one of tense discussion. Members of both the public and the board had a lot to say in light of recent events. Around 40 guests were present as the meeting began.

Public hearing on selling health, life safety bonds

The meeting started with a public hearing as to the selling of health, life safety bonds. District 61 wants to sell these bonds in order to pay for school improvements, including new heating and air-conditioning systems, updated electrical systems, a more secure entrance to the building, as well as moving and creation of a new cafeteria (but not the kitchen).

The first person to speak was Jim Rohrer. Rohrer said he was expecting to see someone from the bonding company (Stifel Nicolaus) at the hearing, but no representative was present. Rohrer also said he was surprised to see a legal notice for the hearing earlier in the month.

Rohrer said he had been reading previous meeting minutes, and he could find no mention of a $2.5 million bond in recent documentation. "I'm looking for a paper trail," he said.

Rohrer later said he is concerned that selling the bonds is being used in a way to work without voter approval. "I would think the school board would want the voice of the people to be heard," he said.

A second guest, Mr. Alberts (whose first name was unstated) wanted to ask the board a couple of questions concerning the figures. Alberts told the board he did not understand what this money would be used for.

Alberts was interrupted by board member Larry Hall. Hall and Alberts both attempted to speak. After a few moments of jumbled dialogue, including a couple of remarks from Hall himself, Hall left the board meeting and did not rejoin any further discussion.

Multiple guests expressed a desire to see Hall reprimanded.

Craig Strampp, another guest, attempted to ask Rohrer and Jeff Brooks what they intended to accomplish in circulating their petition.

Rohrer and Brooks did not answer any questions.

A change in payment options

Prior to the January meeting, the board also intended to sell general obligation alternate revenue bonds. These bonds would not exceed a total of $1.8 million. The money used to pay for the bonds and the accompanying interest would have come from the 1-cent county sales tax.

The new tax is now in its 10th monthly payment to local schools and can be used only to pay for improvements to schools and their grounds in Logan County.

On Jan. 7, a petition with more than 200 signatures, the number needed in order to file, was submitted to Logan County Clerk Sally Litterly. This petition would require the school board to submit to the county board the intent to sell alternate revenue bonds. The county board would then place the item on the ballot in April, leaving the decision up to the voters.

The general obligation bonds alone would not have paid for the renovations. Originally, the district was also going to sell health, life safety bonds in an amount not to exceed $2.5 million. The intent was to sell the bonds at $1 million, which would keep the tax rate at the same level.

However with the submission of the petition, plans for paying for renovations have changed. The school board voted to approve a new resolution to abandon the intent to sell alternative revenue bonds. The resolution was unanimously approved.

The second vote of the evening was to approve a new health, life safety amendment. The new amendment will allow the district to sell bonds for the full amount of $2.5 million. In order to keep the tax rate at the current level, $1.5 million of that total will be abated yearly back to the taxpayers. This action was also unanimously approved.

Health, life safety bonds do not require a referendum. This action will allow the construction to remain within the intended deadline.

"By selling the $2.5 million in HLS bonds, the district will be able to complete the work before the February 2014 deadline," said Superintendent Jennifer Hamm. "If the board would have waited until April to see the outcome of the referendum, we could not have had the work completed before the February 2014 deadline. Many of the projects must be completed by February of 2014 per health, life safety guidelines."

Hamm also said that the board is hoping to cover the rest of the costs through grants. Hamm said more grants may be available due the installation of an environmentally friendly heating system. Hamm added that labor costs and interest rates are currently at all-time lows for such projects.

Various costs for the renovations include $238,400 for asbestos removal and replacing flooring; $125,760 for replacing windows and removing asbestos in the window caulk; $41,800 for bathroom renovations; $281,300 for electrical work; $30,000 to extend electrical circuits; and $1,580,600 for heating, air conditioning and ventilation.

Thoughts from the board

Board members spent the greater part of an hour explaining the difficulties they have faced in making these renovations happen. The board members also wanted to address recent insinuations that they have been less than honest about their intentions.

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Kenny Golden, board president, said the board has spent the last year going over the costs of these projects several times. He said the board has called in professionals from multiple companies to aid in this matter. He also referenced the work that has been provided by the public during a series of engagement meetings in September and October.

"Our responsibility to the district, to the students, to the taxpayers is all of critical importance to us," said Golden. "But we have to weigh how much we are spending with the needs of the children and the needs of the educators in our district."

He expressed that the board worked very hard to ensure that taxes would not be raised for this project and that it would be carried out under a balanced budget, which the district has for this year.

He cited the heating and air problems that need to be fixed, saying that no board has been able to solve the problems in 14 years.

"We have the opportunity with the 1-cent sales tax that the Logan County people passed to get this work accomplished without raising taxes," said Golden. "That tells me we are trying to do the right thing."

He also said he does not mind if people disagree with the board's goals.

However, the petition for referendum has greatly frustrated him. "I feel like this referendum was forced, because the information that I'm getting back from people, the numbers weren't right," said Golden.

Golden feels that the information has been misinterpreted by members of the public, despite all of the opportunity that has been provided by the board members for the public to learn. The misinformation has led some people to believe the board is hiding their agenda.

"If we were hiding things, we would be doing a whole lot better job of it," said Golden jokingly.

Board member Kenda Kitner said these improvements are the same types of projects that other schools in the area have begun work on, using the same source of money. Leslie Starasta echoed the statement, adding: "Why can't CEL kids have air conditioning, too?"

Board member Tina Warfel said that if the district waits and tries to save the money over a longer period of time, at least $500,000 would be added in costs.

Ben Roland, vice president of the school board, spoke for nearly half an hour. He first apologized publicly for the actions of Hall earlier in the meeting. Roland also said he apologized to Alberts shortly after Hall left.

Roland echoed the statements of his fellow board members, saying that he felt the same frustration with the idea that the board was being dishonest about their intentions. He also said that the board has worked with professionals in every step of this endeavor to provide the most accurate information possible.

"I came in with the mindset that we are going to take that money (1-cent tax) as it comes in, and we're going to allocate it to the building and grounds, and we're going to do that and pay as we go," said Roland.

He realized, however, that over time such a method would not be cost-effective.

He also said that the board worked tirelessly to ensure that taxes would not be raised, and the board members provided answers to anyone who asked about the process outside of board meetings.

"I don't know what actions we could have taken to make this any more transparent," said Roland.

He addressed insinuations that the school board has been dishonest, saying that such a tactic frustrates him greatly.

"If you're looking for some group of people who are acting dishonestly, you're gonna need to look farther than this group (the board members) because it's not here," said Roland.

Roland's comments ended with brief applause from most of the crowd. As if on cue, the fire alarm sounded soon after. Guests and board members exited the building while the problem was fixed.

Superintendent's report

As part of her report, Hamm told the board that midyear results of Measures of Academic Progress testing, known as MAP, indicate that all of the grades except one are on target in terms of reading and math skills. The one class that is off track contains special education students, and those students will be receiving extra help in the near future.

Hamm also congratulated the seventh-grade boys basketball team on their recent tournament victory.

After Hamm's report, Golden reminded everyone present that there is still a board seat open. Those interested who can represent East Lincoln can notify the board.

Board members present were Kenny Golden, president; Ben Roland, vice president; Tina Warfel; Larry Hall; Leslie Starasta; Kenda Kitner; and Superintendent Jennifer Hamm.


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