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School District Millage Restructure Requested

Ballot measure would not change overall millage rate

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During a meeting Feb. 21, the board voted to seek public approval to restructure its current millage - a move that would not change the millage rate or affect taxes in any way. It would, however, allow the district to transfer a portion of its millage to be dedicated for debt service to help fund a classroom addition project.

For many years, the district collected 25 mills for operation and maintenance (the lowest amount allowed by state law) and had 3.91 mills dedicated to repaying bonds. A few years ago those bonds were paid off, and the 3.91 mills were transferred to operating.

Now, the district will seek to return those mills to debt service so they can issue bonds again. The transfer request appears on the election ballot, although the outcome will make no difference to the total millage rate or the amount of property tax collected.

Supt. Brent Howard said the district currently is doing what it can to improve facilities, but restructuring the millage is critical to the district’s ability to add classroom space.

“We’re currently working to put heat and air at Rural Special and Timbo,” he said in reference to current plans for those gymnasiums, “but we need space.”

District Finance Coordinator Cindy Smith said currently there are 19 teachers in high school and middle school at Mountain View who push carts around because they need to vacate a classroom so that another teacher can use it.

“We can’t continue to take a teacher’s classroom during a planning period,” she noted.

A majority of the proposed project’s cost will be covered by $2.8 million in COVID relief funding that can be used for construction, but not all.

“Unless we can move these mills, we can’t afford it.”

In addition to eight new classrooms, the project will include a new media center and high school library and some office space.

Smith said the library has been mistaken by some visitors as a teacher’s lounge because it is so small. Providing a larger space will allow more room for students, new technology and more books.

The message school officials want to emphasize is that approving the millage request will not cost taxpayer’s more.

“This is not a millage increase,” Howard said, “it just changes the way we can use our mills. This is very important to the district as a whole.”

If the proposal fails, the millage will remain structured in the current form with no mills devoted to debt service.

“If this fails, the only people it will hurt is the kids,” Howard said.

FOR BACKGROUND, THIS IS FROM DECEMBER 15 EDITION:

Prior to the start of the regular meeting in December, ESSER/Finance and Facilities Coordinator Cindy Smith gave a presentation of the district’s six-year facilities plan.

It includes a handful of projects, most of which have been discussed already and would be funded at least in part by funds from the Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money.

At the top of the list are the HVAC projects at Rural Special and Timbo gyms, the outdoor classroom at Rural Special, and the food pantry at Mountain View.

These three projects have already been approved by the board.

The proposed Mountain View High School classroom addition is the largest project on the list and was also the subject of a presentation by Michael McBryde with Stephens Inc. This new building would be funded partially by ESSER but would also require a bond issue.

Smith said she had spoken to some contractors who estimated the cost at around $250-300 per square foot for the first floor, a little less for the second floor.

This would put them right at $6 million for the project, with at least $2.5 expected from ESSER funds.
The building would include eight classrooms, a library, and new central offices.

“Remember we’ve got 19 teachers sharing classrooms right now, so this is something we really need to look at,” Smith said.

McBryde gave the board a financial analysis of the district’s millage and assessment history for the county. The district currently collects 28.91 mills on real, personal, and utility properties. This is one of the lowest millage rates in the state, with the average being 38.85 and the minimum allowed rate being 25.

Until a few years ago, the board was collecting only 25 mills for maintenance & operation (M&O) and had 3.91 mills dedicated to paying off bonds. As that debt was about to be retired, voters approved a proposal to transfer the 3.91 mills to M&O, which allowed the school to get a little boost to its operating budget without any tax increase.

The board now has two options for re-paying new bonds, McBryde said. One is to issue non-bonded debt, which is secured by M&O mills but can only be extended for 10 years. The second is to ask voters to reallocate some of the 28.91 mills back to debt service and issue a traditional 30-year bond issue. This would not raise taxes.

Of course, raising the millage would be a third option but is also dependent on approval by voters, and they rejected a proposal earlier this year.

McBryde said interest rates are currently low, and they could probably secure a rate of 3.5 percent or even less.
No action was taken.

Completing the list of projects on the six-year plan are renovations of the fieldhouse and the central administrative offices at Mountain View (which would be moved into the new high school building).

A new dressing room would be added to the fieldhouse for the home team, and the old part would be renovated for visitors.

Smith said there has also been discussion of converting the administrative offices to a school-based health clinic, adding an outdoor pavilion for Mountain View Middle School, and possibly creating a daycare facility with preference given to school employees. These last two concepts are further down the line and dependent on finances, she noted.

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