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SEEKING RENOVATION: Tommy Wells, principal at Pershing K-8, describes areas of the school building in need of renovation. Pershing is among Springfield Public Schools facilities included in a proposed $220 million bond issue.
Rebecca Green | SBJ
SEEKING RENOVATION: Tommy Wells, principal at Pershing K-8, describes areas of the school building in need of renovation. Pershing is among Springfield Public Schools facilities included in a proposed $220 million bond issue.

SPS task force recommends $220 million bond proposal

School board has until January to decide if issue should go on April 2023 ballot

Posted online

Concluding three months of work, a community task force appointed by the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education has recommended to place a $220 million no-tax bond proposal before voters in April 2023.

The Community Task Force on Facilities made its recommendations at the school board’s Oct. 11 study session. Task force co-chairs David Hall and Bridget Dierks presented the report, which calls for funding new buildings for Pipkin Middle School and Robberson Community School, renovations for Pershing K-8, as well as safety and security projects. A new Reed Middle School also was recommended, if funding allows.

Cost breakdown, in order of task force recommended priority, is as follows:

  • Pipkin Middle School, $53 million;
  • Safety and security projects, $37.4 million;
  • Pershing K-8 renovation, $50.5 million;
  • Robberson Community School, $31.7 million; and
  • Reed Middle School, $59.5 million.

Inclusion of Reed in the total brings the bond issue to just over $232 million, Hall said. However, the task force chose to keep the bond total at no more than $220 million to keep the debt-service levy at its current rate of 73 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. It also would leave the school district with $150 million in debt-service capacity. In the task force’s report, funding Reed was recommended if reducing the scope of other projects was possible or cost savings were generated through the bidding process. Robberson also could be delayed until funding is identified, according to the report.

Prior to the Oct. 11 meeting, Hall said the report to the school board concludes the task force’s work.

“It is up to them as to what, if anything, they do from this point,” he said. “We’re just strictly giving recommendations.”

Phased improvements
Nearly 30 volunteers, including business leaders, educators, parents and students, comprised the task force. School board members Scott Crise, Steve Makoski and Shurita Thomas-Tate served as task force liaisons to listen to the discussions but did not have a vote.

The original task force – also co-chaired by Hall and Dierks – was formed in 2018 to determine which SPS facilities should be targeted for a first phase of improvements. That effort eventually led to a $168 million bond issue, dubbed Proposition S, that 61% of voters approved in 2019. That increased the debt-service levy by 18 cents. Superintendent Grenita Lathan last month said Hillcrest High School, Jarrett Middle School and York Elementary School are the final projects and are scheduled for completion in early 2023 for the district, which has current enrollment of 23,594, according to its website.

Hall said for the second phase of improvements, the task force met nine times beginning in mid-July and toured 13 SPS facilities under consideration for work as part of the proposed bond issue. Principals at each facility provided tours, he said.

“They were given free rein. Give us a tour, show us around your facility and let us know what’s working and what’s not working,” he said. “They were very candid with us.”

The task force was first assembled as part of the school district’s facility master planning process, Hall said. In both instances, it was tasked to review the current state of SPS facilities and provide feedback and recommendations to the school board and administration for high-priority projects it believes the community may support via bond issues.

John Mulford, SPS deputy superintendent of operations, said he attended the task force meetings and supports the group’s recommendations.

“We feel very confident that the projects they are recommending and the amount they’re recommending will mesh very well,” he said.

Matter of time
The April 2023 election would be an opportune time for the issue to appear before voters, Mulford added.

“No matter when you’re looking at bringing a bond proposal to the people, there’s always the argument that can be made of was this the right time or should we wait a year or two? I’ve been at the district level for 14 years and run multiple bond and levy issues during that time,” he said. “Whether the economy was good or the economy was bad, there was always those who thought this wasn’t the right time.

“The reality is that’s why it goes to a vote of the people. If voters don’t feel like it’s the right time, then they can tell us so at the ballot box.”

Hall said favorable construction costs in 2019 allowed more projects to be completed through Prop S than expected. It’s a situation he and Mulford said is unlikely to happen for the second phase of projects, provided the bond issue is added to the ballot and receives voter approval.

“Construction costs are not at all likely to go down,” Mulford said. “There is a good chance they can continue to go up. We know it’s not going to be any cheaper than it is now to build.”

Following the task force’s report, school board member Kelly Byrne agreed there are needs to be met for facilities in the district. However, he said he doesn’t want his vote “to be a blank check on $220 million.”

“To me, there’s a sense of urgency for every dollar we do spend, whether it’s $220 million or any other number, that we get the process right and it’s as responsible as possible,” he said. “If we mess it up along the way, then we’re not serving as many students as we could.”

He said the board needs to engage in learning more about the design and bidding process for the projects – something he’d like SPS staff to help facilitate in the coming weeks.

Board member Danielle Kincaid echoed Byrne’s desire to gather more information from staff to make a more informed decision.

Byrne and other board members were complimentary of the time and dedication put in by the task force over the past several months. Thomas-Tate said while it’s still to be determined which projects will comprise the bond issue if it goes to voters, there are still plans for a phase three for SPS facilities to accommodate future projects.

The board plans to have additional discussion on the topic at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 25.

Mulford said Jan. 24 is the final certification date for the April 2023 ballot. However, he told the board if they approve putting the bond issue before voters, December would be preferred to allow ample time to finalize the ballot language.

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