Release Date: 10/25/2011
During a regularly scheduled School Board Work Session the Hermiston School District Board of Directors chose to use remaining bond dollars, and additional recently-awarded grant funding, to accomplish roof repairs, high priority heating/cooling upgrades, and energy efficiency projects across the district’s older campuses. Any remaining grant dollars will be earmarked for technology and full day kindergarten facility needs.
The scheduled discussion began with a presentation from Bond Oversight Committee Chairman Kelly Bissinger. Providing a yearly update to the Board, Bissinger relayed the nine member committee’s recommendation to complete a list of identified projects by using the remaining bond dollars available and additional dollars provided through a federal E-Rate grant. Once completed, the committee recommended the Board consider rebating back to taxpayers any additional grant monies remaining, estimated to be around $800,000.
Following Bissinger’s update, Interim Superintendent Wade Smith provided a detailed report of the district’s bond financial status, facilities, capacity forecasts, and the recommended list of projects identified as “high priority” by the Bond Oversight Committee.
“The elementary schools are currently at 92% capacity with seven available classrooms for growth district-wide,” said Smith. He pointed out that in 2015 the district intends to comply with the State expectation that full day kindergarten be offered. “This will likely require the district to purchase four additional modular buildings to house the students, due to this unforeseen initiative approved by the Oregon legislature late last spring,” noted Smith. “Fortunately with the construction of the two, larger elementary schools and the procurement of additional space, we will be able to offer this program.” However, the Board must consider how to pay for an estimated $850,000 of modular facilities and additional classroom needs which will be required.
The facilities report highlighted significant heating/cooling and maintenance challenges across the district’s older campuses. Outdated Freon-based units, broken-down equipment, and leaking roofs across the older buildings highlighted the need for application of bond and grant dollars to remedy the issues. “If we don’t use the remaining bond dollars and grant funds to fix some of our thirty-two-year- old heating equipment at Highland Hills and forty-year-old leaking roofs at Rocky Heights, we will be forced to use general fund dollars in the future. I don’t want to have to make the difficult choice of cutting programs and laying off teachers to fix these problems when we have the available dollars now,” noted Board Chair Karen Sherman.
The Board of Directors spent over an hour evaluating the financial status of the bond account, debating the merit of the identified projects, discussing future preparation for the full day kindergarten program, and evaluating rebate scenarios suggested by the Bond Oversight Committee. After completion of the capital projects and procurement of the fairgrounds property for future high school needs, an estimated $340,000 remains in the bond account. However, the district recently learned that they have been awarded $2.1 million in a Federal E-Rate grant, which must be spent on capital projects or technology. In previous years the Board chose to use E-Rate funds to pay for the district’s yearly internet connection fee. The previous grant, awarded after the completion of the 1998 bond, was depleted with this year’s fee.
“Unfortunately, rebating back $800,000 does not yield a large amount of savings for the average taxpayer in Hermiston,” noted Vice-chair Jason Middleton. “Although it will likely mean a Hermiston homeowner may receive a $12 discount for five consecutive years, their taxes will go back up once the rebate expires. We have a responsibility as Board members to weigh a $12, five-year discount verses the need to ensure our buildings are well maintained for years to come. We don’t want to be forced to cut teachers and programs to pay for facility repairs,” said Middleton.
After continued deliberation, the Board of Directors thanked the Bond Oversight Committee for its hard work and endorsed the committee’s recommendation to complete the “high priority” facility projects, depleting all remaining bond dollars and over half of the ERATE grant. However, after carefully scrutinizing rebate scenarios and future needs, the Board chose to retain the remaining ERATE grant dollars for continued technology fees and for anticipated full day kindergarten facility needs.