RILEY — After two failed bond issues in the past decade, the Riley County school board said it’s trying a more communicative approach in educating residents about a 20-year, $15 million bond issue on the November ballot.
The school board hosted a bond education session Monday evening in the Riley County High School cafeteria to show district patrons the driving forces behind the bond issue and give them a chance to ask the board and bond team questions about the proposed projects. About 20 people attended, including the recently retired Jordy Nelson, who graduated from the school in 2003 and went on to K-State and Green Bay Packers football fame.
Under the proposed $15 million bond issue, district officials project an increase between 18 mills and 19 mills in the property tax rate, bringing the rate up from 43.634 mills to between 61.634 and 62.634 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property.
The district projects that the bond issue, if successful, would add $218.50 in annual property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home, $475 for the owner of a $100,000 business, $503.42 for the owner of 160 acres of dry crop land and $88.46 for the owner of 160 acres of grassland.
Using that projection, the owner of a $100,000 single-family home who paid $491.12 in 2019 school property taxes would pay $709.62 in 2020 as a result of the $218.50, or 44.5%, increase associated with a passed bond proposal. That’s without taking into account any changes in home valuations.
Cliff Williams, superintendent, said the bond project would make much needed repairs — like roof replacements and HVAC system updates — and add disability access and secure entrances to both the high school and grade school facilities.
The grade school would see the bulk of the work with $10.6 million in upgrades that would add 18,210 square feet in new kindergarten classrooms and a new gym, as well as an elevator.
With the new classrooms, the district would be able to remove the site’s exterior classrooms, and bathrooms in the new classrooms would also double as storm shelters. The district would build a new pick-up and drop-off lane where the outdoor classrooms currently sit.
Williams said a new grade school gym also would help the district save money, as it currently busses middle school students to the high school four times a week for physical education classes. Middle school students are housed at the grade school.
New coolers and storage space for the cafeteria would also help the district save money by allowing its food service to buy items in bulk.
At the high school, the bond project would focus on maintenance improvements, as well as enhanced security fencing and gates to create a perimeter between the school’s main building and its shop and weights facilities. The district would replace some of the building’s windows with more energy efficient ones.
Williams said the high school project also would add a water tank for a fire suppression system at the building, as the district is in danger of losing insurance coverage on the building because of a lack of available water supply for fighting fires. If voters don’t pass the bond issue, the district will still need to address the fire suppression inadequacy, Williams said.
The bond project also would address asbestos and sinking foundations and walls at both schools.
For this bond proposal, Williams said the school district took a reflective approach in figuring out why a $12.3 million bond issue in 2013 and a $22.5 million bond issue in 2016 both failed. The district hired marketing firm ASA from Topeka to study the past failed bonds. The firm found that there was a lack of unity on the board in previous campaigns on determining what to include in the bond projects.
This time around, though, the school district made sure it listened to what the district’s teachers and patrons prioritized in any potential bond campaign. They identified about $50 million in potential projects, but they evaluated the district’s priorities and came up with the $15 million proposal.
In two separate phone surveys, the firm found that preliminary support for the bond projects is about 61% in the community, with about 15% against and 24% undecided.
Williams said this situation is also different because the district no longer has any debt from the 1999 bond issue, having paid that off last school year.
Joel Garver, chair of a citizen’s committee that has worked with the board to develop the bond issue, said the bond projects are needed to ensure the district’s future success.
“There’s a lot of complexity in all of this, but it all comes down to an investment in the community,” Garver said. “If we want this community to continue to thrive and continue to bring in great teachers, bring in the best students, we have to have facilities to match that. That’s just what it comes down to, and the facilities are not there to match that right now.”
Williams said his and the board’s goal in the education session was to give information to residents so they could make the best decision possible, and he said the district has stepped up its efforts compared to previous bond issues.
“Our main goal has always been to educate the patrons and get the information out,” Williams said. “I think when you look at the data and the 60% in favor, we’ve still been concerned about getting to the undecideds, but I think we’ve done a good job of getting the information out.”
The election is Nov. 5. Tuesday was the last day to register to vote, and advance voting begins Wednesday.