July 17, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Cost of Emporia school bond proposal is understated

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The Emporia school bond proposal being pushed by USD 253 is said to cost just $78 million and district officials emphasize it will only cost about three mills of property tax, but both of those claims are understated according to documents on the district’s website.

The total cost of the project to taxpayers, including interest, is about $140 million. The district’s presentation also consciously understates the amount of property tax required to pay for the project. As shown below, the district says a residential property valued at $100,000 would only pay $33.92 per year, but that calculation is based only on the mill levy increase of 2.95 mills.  The existing 9.24 mills of property tax expires in two years, so without this new bond issue, that homeowner would be getting a tax reduction of $106.20.  The cost of the proposed bond issue to that homeowner is $140.12 or about four times more than stated by the school district.

Further, that cost assumes no change in the assessed value of the home over the next 20 or more years, and that’s highly unlikely.

The school board is putting on a series of public information sessions at Emporia schools. The Sentinel went to one of these sessions to better understand what the bond would cover and to get a sense of the public’s perception. When asked what the all-in price for the project would be, including interest, assistant superintendent of business Rob Schieb sidestepped the question, noting the school district would receive $78 million.

About a dozen people showed up for the presentation. There were more people at the presentation on behalf of Emporia schools, including the representatives from HTK architects and McCown Gordon Construction than members of the public. The all-hands on deck approach was useful in drilling down to the nuts and bolts of what the bond issue would provide.

A goal for the project is to create small communities within large buildings, update security, and update overall facilities. A key takeaway from the plan is to shift shared space into single-use space. For example, building a cafeteria so existing space can be used solely as a gym. The academic impact would be the addition of more classrooms. However, according to Superintendent Case student enrollment is flat and is likely to remain so.

“Enrollment at this time is flat, but good things continue to happen in Emporia, and I think we need to continue to look at making sure the schools have appropriate spaces.”

Since 2005 enrollment in USD 253 has declined 2%. The school district is looking to add nearly 123,000 square feet across district schools. It is spending that school board officials say is needed in case of potential economic growth in Emporia.

“If few get a new industry coming in with 100 extra employees, I mean we have to take them in,” says Emporia School Board member Doug Epp.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports the Emporia population has declined by 1.1% since 1997.

At no point during the presentation was there any mention of how the bond money will help teachers teach or help students learn. The Public Education Fact Book published by Kansas Policy Institute, the parent company of The Sentinel, shows a 5% increase in classroom teachers and an 8% increase in non-teaching staff in USD 253 since 2005, while enrollment declined 2%.

KPI’s Fact Book uses data provided by the Kansas Department of Education.  It also shows results from the 2018 state assessment test for 10th-grade, with less than 10% of low-income students on track for college and career; less than a third of other students (not low-income) are on track.

There are two more of town hall meetings regarding the bond issue on the schedule.

Tuesday, July 23rd at 7:30 am at the Trusler Business Center

Wednesday, July 31 6:00 pm at Emporia High School Library

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