WINSIDE – Local media were invited to a northeast Nebraska school previewing a ballot item that will impact the school district.
From Winside Public Schools in Winside, Superintendent Andrew Offner in his second year was joined by Visionary Task Committee member, Mellissa Schwedhelm and school board president, Jon Jaeger to lead the Thursday morning event.
Voters within the Winside Public School District will be asked to authorize a bond issuance not to exceed $14.67 million on May 11, 2021. The election will be by mail-in ballot with the mailing to registered voters anticipated the week of April 19. Roughly 720 registered voters received a brochure.
Winside is faced with urgent facility needs that have grown beyond the current district budget and are seeing several mechanical and structural issues along with classroom space.
If the voters of Winside Public Schools pass this bond issue through on May 11, Offner said plans will be drawn prior to going out for the lowest bid.
“So, you’re probably looking at I would imagine October/November is when the bids would be open,” Offner mentioned. “But the interest rates are locked as soon as the bond is approved by the public. So, that next day (May 12) the interest day would be locked and then the process of selling the bonds would begin.”
More than likely, construction would begin in the Spring of 2022.
The tour included showing the poor areas of the elementary and high school along with weight room and shop. The high school was built in 1968 and elementary in 1970.
DLR Group will be the lead architect and provide a professional study of the facility needs as well as present additional options that would provide for security upgrades and additional classroom space. This additional space is needed for Career Technical Education and Agriculture. Spaces slated to be used by both the district and community include a multi-purpose area and fitness room.
A portion of the high school building’s foundation is cracked and failing, several of the school building’s mechanical systems are aging out and again as with many facilities its age, there are many handicap and fire safety code issues. Security upgrades also need to be addressed.
Currently, Winside Public Schools has IT courses (power drive, woods, welding) but do not have any Ag or FFA leadership courses.
Offner added during school conducted a survey in the Fall of 2019 during parent teacher conferences where each family was handed a survey.
“We were collecting multiple data points but one of the big pushes was to find out if that’s truly what the parents wanted was an FFA/Ag program,” Offner added. “The board had heard about it before I had arrived so that was a priority. That was 97% they were in favor of starting that program.”
The board and school personnel worked with the professional design team to pare down original ideas for addressing the needs that came in at over $18 million. The board then invited several community members from across the district to participate in visioning sessions with the architect to determine priorities and provide feedback on project costs. The final results of these meetings were that a nearly unanimous majority of participants believed the board should move forward with a bond issue to address these facility and program needs.
The overall net levy increase for district patrons is expected to be around seven cents per $100 of assessed taxable valuation for the first two years and then will be reduced in following years to a lesser net tax impact. The projection takes into account net option dollars sent to the district by the State of Nebraska due to increased option enrollment students as well as significant wind tower dollars that will begin flowing into the district’s general fund account starting this next fiscal year.
As of the fiscal year 2020-21, the Winside Public Schools tax levy was 0.8282 without the bond and could be 0.8982 with the bond.
The bond levy itself will be around 20 cents, but the actual net tax impact of district patrons will be greatly reduced by the previously mentioned economic factors. Current bond rates are also historically low at below two percent which means district tax payers will be paying over $3 million less in interest than if the same issue were done two years ago.
If the voters would say no to the bond issue, Offner said one option would be to do nothing but the board has stated they’ll need to address the immediate issues in the renovation piece of $4.8 million by using the special building fund.
“Again, I don’t have the 100% final numbers but that levy would be more than what the current levy would be with the bond,” said Offner. “Because we’d be chasing a number, we wouldn’t have the funds available to start the project immediately. You know construction costs will go up and interest rates will change too, so we’d be always chasing a number.”
A group of community members called the Wildcat Community Task Force have been meeting weekly to pull together accurate information regarding the needs, project design and financial impact of the bond issue to share with district patrons. The goal of the group is to make sure that every person has accurate information before voting on the bond issue. This group is scheduling several small group outreach meetings throughout the month of April and have sent out an informational brochure to households.
The Wildcat Community Task Force will be holding public information meetings on Sunday, April 18 and Tuesday, April 20 beginning with tours at 6:15 p.m. with a meeting to follow at 7 p.m.
Visit winsidebondissue.org for more information which includes the homeowner and ag land impact.