Harrisburg school board’s plan to construct a new school appears to be in the hands of district during the April election.
A petition distributed by Sandra Smith garnered enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot asking if voters would agree to support a $24 million bond issue to fund the projected $27.5 million school. The other $3.5 million would come from a health/life safety bond sale.
Architect Ed Kerkhover came to the meeting with renderings of the new school, but it appears at this point that about all the work he will be doing on that project until the voters make their decision in the spring.
He said in the roughly five months before the election he could remain active, refining floor plans and preparing for the design of the final construction documents to be produced upon a successful referendum.
Board member Matt Winkleman pressed Kerkhover on what his bill would be for that work. Kerkhover predicted it would be between $50,000 and $100,000.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for a decade. We could possibly be spending $50,000 plus to be potentially wasted. Maybe we should wait,” Winkleman said.
Board member Molly Wilson Dearing agreed.
“Given the full situation I don’t think it would be financially prudent to authorize the funds,” she said.
Kerkhover said to put the project on hold could delay progress by five months, but the board could not be convinced.
“I think we’ve got to get the vote out,” board member Michelle Way said.
“We should put it on hold,” board member Scott Berry said.
The board took no action and came to an agreement that regardless of the outcome of the April vote the $3.5 million in health/life safety bonds would be spent during the summer. Davenport Gym would remain whether the new school is built or not and much of the money would be spent on that structure. Should the vote fail the rest of the bond money could be spent on repairs of the rest of the aging structure, an expenditure Berry referred to as “lipstick on a pig.”
The board examined and discussed cuts proposed by Superintendent Dennis Smith. For next year Smith proposes not filling six positions that will be open as staff retire. Those include the media/technology/grants position that will be open upon Cindy Black’s retirement, a Title 1 reading position, an eighth grade social studies position, and second, third and middle school exploratory positions. Smith suggested the exploratory positions could possibly be filled by eliminating positions in art, media, one high school guidance, one high school agriculture, band and general music.
Smith’s recommendation could save the district $512,000, according to calculations he provided to the board.
Board member Dean West said he recommends another $450,000 in cuts. Way and Dearing argued vehemently against more cuts without knowing the effect of those already being planned.
“I think reducing staff by six retirees could be a huge shock to our system,” Dearing said.
Asked by the board about possible impacts on schools Middle School Principal John Crabb said by losing two middle school positions plus the positions lost at the school last year is a blow.
“We’ve lost 25 percent of our staff,” Crabb said.
East and West Side School Principal Scott Dewar agreed.
“I think we’re pretty much bare bones as far as certified staff goes,” Dewar said.
High School Principal Karen Crank said whether the school could absorb the cuts depends on the board’s willingness to continue offering vocational curriculum.
The board asked principals to give presentations on possibilities for cost savings at their schools next meeting.
During the meeting:
n The board approved levying $5,588,745 in property taxes, a 5.86 percent increase over last year based on the current equalized assessed valuation. Because the amount is greater than 4.9 percent, the board would have to conduct a hearing. Smith said he did not receive this year’s EAV until two weeks ago so his is an informed guess.
“If you could do a levy based on the EAV it would be perfect, but you are firing a gun before you know what you’re firing at,” Smith said.
By the next EAV Smith said the actual increase may be much less.
n The board approved an eight-grade trip to Chicago which the pupils will pay $399 each to attend.
n The board approved the employment of Marcus Questelle as high school boys assistant track coach.
n The board approved employing Amanda Price as a three-hour cook at Harrisburg Middle School.