Board Reviews School Configuration Costs Subcommittee Reports Scheduled for August 23

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Thursday August 11, 2016

The school district’s master planning and visioning process has been ongoing for well over a year and has involved countless hours of evaluation and feedback by community volunteers and consultants. At the heart of the matter is the city’s changing demographics, declining student enrollment, and anticipated landscape shifts due to City Center development. The complex study seeks answers to a seemingly simple question—should the city continue to maintain its three elementary schools? The answer is still unfolding.

At a school board meeting in mid-July, White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors gave an updated presentation regarding the five school configuration options being considered by the school board. Senior Project Manager Stephanie Hainley was on hand to offer a review of the scenarios, the process and model by which the firm evaluated options, sensitivities and limitations, and outputs.

White + Burke offered their initial financial analysis of the options last spring. Following a community presentation in March, they went back to work considering comments, questions, and new information. Hainley revisited a number of these factors in her July presentation. First, she refreshed everyone’s memory about the five options under consideration. Scenario 1: all schools remain open with stewardship (maintenance) only. Scenario 2: all schools remain open with stewardship and upgrades to all. Scenario 3: close Chamberlin, stewardship and upgrades to all others while Orchard and Central become grades K-4 and the fifth grade moves to the middle school. Scenario 4: close Chamberlin and Central, Orchard becomes a K-2 and a new grade 3-5 school is built, or two K-4’s are built with the fifth grade moving to the middle school. And Scenario 5: all elementary schools close, fifth grade moves to the middle school, and one new elementary school is built.

Hainley explained the model did not consider environmental impacts, enrollment sensitivities, the impact on transportation costs, re-purposing of buildings, or the impact on neighborhood values. The model inputs included costs (upgrades, stewardship, timing), financing (board amounts, bond terms, other financing sources), savings (operational savings), and real estate estimates (Oak Creek location appraisal, broker’s opinion of value). The model outputs included cost and tax impacts for the elementary reconfiguration only (exclusive of middle and high school expenses), impacts for the whole district including the middle and high school, and numbers for the ‘Cadillac’ model, if the district were to transition all facilities into ‘21st Century’ learning models.

Hainley clarified that ‘upgrades’ include renovations to existing configurations while ‘21st Century’ improvements under consideration consist of creating drastically different configurations within schools to increase connectivity between classrooms with an emphasis on flexibility.

As increasing figures flashed across slides for each scenario, Hainley was careful to emphasize that they did factor in some natural growth and that the numbers are estimates that include a margin of error. For the elementary configuration only, price estimates ranged from $23 million in scenario 1 to $57 million in Scenario 5. For impacts to the whole district, figures ranged from $23 million in Scenario 1 to $89 million in Scenario 5. Finally, if the district wanted to take the ‘Cadillac’ route, Scenario 1 is estimated to remain the same at $23 million and Scenario 5 would jump to $186 million.

Hainley also reviewed the associated tax impacts, reflecting debt service over a 20-year period for an average condo valued at $226,000 and a house valued at $366,000. These figures went up accordingly for each scenario and included what residents pay currently for taxes as well as a measure of background growth; in other words, the assumption is that taxes will continue to rise regardless of school configuration decisions.

Former master planning and visioning task force chair Art Klugo took issue with the term ‘Cadillac’ for the ‘21st century upgrades.’ “We need to be competitive,” Klugo said, “we need to ask what are the appropriate educational services for our children in the 21st Century.” Klugo also thought the Scenario 1 figures may be low given that functional maintenance costs often increase as buildings age.

Parent Laurel Williams noted that there wasn’t any information on the education benefits of the scenarios and that these should be spelled out.“What happens if we consolidate and people don’t want to live here? Do they go to Shelburne or someplace else?”she asked.

Some of these questions will be addressed by the school board’s subcommittees on finance and education at the August 23 meeting. For Hainley’s part, she said she would be adding footnotes to her presentation to clarify normal tax increases well as compiling a final report to give people a more complete look at her firm’s process.

SOURCE:  Corey Burdick, Correspondent