A voter’s guide to Proposition S: The Rockwood School District bond issue
By: Carol Enright
On April 2, Rockwood voters will be asked to consider Proposition S, a $38.4 million no-tax rate increase bond issue. As voters head to the ballot box, West Newsmagazine thought it would be handy to have a Prop S “cheat sheet.”
Bond issues 101
A bond issue can most easily be compared to a home mortgage or a home improvement loan. A homeowner might take out a loan to add on to his or her house or fix a leaky roof. According to the Rockwood website, the district is taking out a loan to maintain and improve 36 schools and buildings – more than half of which were built before 1983 – that span more than 3.65 million square feet and are valued at more than $700 million.
What does no-tax rate increase mean?
The district currently assesses a 68-cent tax rate that it uses to pay off outstanding bonds as they become due. The current debt is on track to be paid off in 2026-27. The district can issue additional bonds, without raising the current tax rate, and pay off those bonds by 2023-24. (The tax rate does not increase as the district takes on more debt because the assessed valuation generally rises each year, increasing the tax revenue generated by the 68 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.) If the district stopped taking out bonds for capital expenditures, the tax rate would go down each year.
What will it take to pass Prop S?
The Missouri constitution requires a four-sevenths majority for bond issues to pass. Prop S needs 57.14 percent of the votes to succeed. The $43.2 million bond issue the district placed on the April 2012 ballot received a majority of the vote, with just over 54 percent voting in favor of the bond issue, but it still failed to pass. Last year’s bond issue failed by about 435 votes.
What will Prop S pay for?
Prop S will fund security, technology and facilities’ maintenance as follows:
Prop S would pay for updating existing and adding 200 more security cameras in schools, installing new locking systems on classroom doors, upgrading public address systems and providing generator back-up for phone systems. It would fund a visitor/ID security system, visitor check-in centers at all schools, a security wall for the gym-to-field area at Eureka High, and reconfigure/renovate the front entrance and cafeteria at Rockwood Summit. It would also update the district’s fire sprinkling system.
Prop S would fund the following technology projects: replacing obsolete computers; replacing projecting devices, SMART boards and amplification systems; replacing aged network equipment and switches and upgrading server storage areas; and upgrading network wiring.
These technology upgrades are critical for public school districts as they get ready to implement the new Common Core State Standards that will require online standardized testing by the 2014-2015 school year.
The bulk of this money will be allocated to districtwide preventative maintenance on roofs, flooring, equipment, paving and electrical systems. The Eureka High locker rooms – which have been deemed far too small to accommodate the current student population – would be replaced. And the kitchens and cafeterias at Eureka, Stanton and Uthoff Valley elementary schools would be renovated to address safety and service issues.
Bond issue oversight, architectural and engineering services: $2,500,000
This would cover the permits and management services needed to execute bond construction projects.
What will Prop S not pay for?
By law, bond issues may only pay for capital improvement projects, such as facilities’ maintenance, new classrooms and technology. Bond monies may not be used to pay for salaries and benefits, transportation, utilities, textbooks or supplies. These expenses must be funded by the district’s operating budget. One can extrapolate from this, however, that if the district can use bond funds for capital expenses this frees up money in the operating budget for items such as teachers’ salaries.
What do voters think?
“I will definitely be voting no since the district’s showing they’re irresponsible with money. I feel that they continually put up bond issues rather than seeking good financial solutions.” – Susan Tiffany, Ballwin mother of 5-year-old who will enter Rockwood schools in the fall
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“I will vote for it because whether I agree or disagree with what the school board does, I understand that we have to do things to keep our district running. And I’m not punishing the Board by voting no on Prop S; I’m punishing kids.” – Suzanne Rainey, Eureka High School teacher and Rockwood parent
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“The RNEA has endorsed and completely supports Prop S. The projects, technology and safety considerations within the bond issue will directly impact the student experience in a positive manner.” – Suzanne Dotta, president, Rockwood National Education Association (teacher’s union)
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“I would like to just propose and suggest that perhaps we wait on Proposition S until maybe the fall – put it on the ballot after we’ve had a chance for the auditor to come back and go ‘OK, this has been done, this has been done.’ Make sure all the ducks are in a row and make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed before we expect the community to want to go ahead with more money, approving more money, when the confidence has waned tremendously especially after the audit report.” – Nancy Robinson, Rockwood parent speaking at the March 7 Board meeting
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“I feel like students almost deserve to have better locker rooms.” – Nate Echard, Eureka High School senior, speaking about the need for Prop S to replace the “congested” locker rooms at Eureka High during the March 7 Board meeting
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“RS for RS can neither oppose nor endorse a candidate or a ballot issue, because we are not filed formally as a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(4) …We’re opposed to having a proposition on the ballot in the current climate of the district. We’re not opposed to a proposition. There should not be one on the ballot in this current climate.” – Eileen Tyrell, Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions
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“I understand that there are a number of issues that people have with the school board, that they have with the school district regarding its finances, its history, etcetera (but) … To further delay these necessary improvements by making this a lighting rod for bigger concerns just does a disservice to the students of the district.” – Scott Jensen, Rockwood parent