Maryville R-II Superintendent of Schools Larry Linthacum told his Board of Education this week that the campaign to convince patrons to approve a $10.25 million capital improvements bond issue scheduled to go before voters in April is well underway.
Linthacum has been speaking to service clubs and civic groups, and the district has scheduled a couple of "town hall"-style meetings, one on October 24 and another on Dec. 3, to acquaint patrons with plans for major construction projects at both Maryville High School and Eugene Field Elementary School.
As announced earlier, district officials want to build a performing arts center at MHS and possibly a second gymnasium, which would double as a community storm shelter.
The gymnasium proposal is dependent on approval of a grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency that would pay 75 percent of the $4 million construction cost.
At Eugene Field, the district is proposing an addition that would house a new cafeteria, kitchen and commons area.
Linthacum is seeking to sell the proposal as a "no tax increase" bond issue, meaning he thinks the district can swing the financing without raising its current operating levy of $4.24 per $100 of assessed valuation.
However, the district has already acted to increase its debt-service property tax levy from 69 cents to 79 cents per $100 in order to handle the anticipated debt service should the bonds be approved. The tax hike, enacted in August, is still well below the 26-cent ceiling that would have required the school board to seek voter approval.
Linthacum said during Wednesday's regular board meeting that one of the questions patrons are asking is how the district can afford to move ahead with a major building program when facing a loss next year of $400,000 in personal property tax revenue following the scheduled shutdown of the Energizer battery plant next month.
Revenue loss from the shutdown, Linthacum explained, largely affects the operational side of the district's $17.9 million budget rather than capital improvements. So while the district is still faced with the challenge of cutting costs, paying for new construction should prove feasible.
To make up for lost operational funds, Linthacum said the district intends to use $133,000 in existing savings in addition to reducing expenditures.
On that score, R-II has already moved to eliminate or restructure jobs through attrition in addition to cutting back on utilities, transportation and insurance costs through competitive bidding, the purchase of energy efficient vehicles, planned installation of solar panels and resetting thermostats slightly lower in the winter and slightly higher in the summer.
Such economies, Linthacum said, should produce $210,000 in savings and reduce the Energizer "deficit" to around $60,000.
As for the proposed capital improvements, Linthacum said the 10-cent debt service tax increase in August, coupled with earlier refinancing of existing district debt, should provide the district ample fiscal room to move forward.
Page 2 of 2 - On a related front, Linthacum told the board he has asked the district's architect to come up with a couple of alternate plans for Eugene Field, the 22-classroom central section of which was built in 1930. While structurally sound, the original portion of the building constitutes a growing liability for the district in terms of maintenance costs.
Options, Linthacum said, include renovating the aging classrooms or largely eliminating the central section altogether and building a new instructional wing on the existing campus.
Abandoning Eugene Field and building a new school elsewhere is not cost-effective, Linthacum said, since the district spent $3 million adding new wings onto the 83-year-old school in 1999 and 2003.
Upgrading or eliminating Eugene Field's original wing would likely force the district to seek financing beyond the current $10.25 million bond proposal.
As things stand now, exclusive of engineering and other ancillary costs, cash generated from the bonds would be spent three ways: $6.5 million for the MHS performing arts center; $2 million for the Eugene Field commons/kitchen/cafeteria; and $1 million for the gymnasium.