An unexpected low bond rate will save USD 257 taxpayers about $8.6 million in interest to build a new elementary school and make other improvements.
School board members learned the results from the sale of $35.3 million in bonds Monday, after taxpayers voted in April to build a new elementary school for $25.5 million, a new science and technology building at the high school for $7 million and replacing heating, ventilation and cooling systems at the middle school for $2.8 million.
The winning bid came from Robert W. Baird & Co., Inc., which offered a total interest rate of 3.09456% over the lifetime of the 30-year bonds.
“We’ve never had rates like this on 30-year bonds,” Steve Shogren, senior vice president with George K. Baum & Company, told the board. “We caught a downdraft in the market.”
In May, when the school bond project was first let for bids, interest rates were about 3.75 percent.
“Wow, did we ever hit this timing right,” Dan Willis, school board president, said. “We are very grateful taxpayers will be seeing an unexpected break.”
Supporters of the school project, with help from Shogren, initially estimated the entire project would cost the owner of a $70,000 house about $14.57 more each month in property taxes. That was based partly on an estimated interest rate of 4.50 percent.
But with the actual interest rate coming in significantly lower, the owner of a $70,000 house now can expect to pay about $12.67 per month. The tax rate (mill levy) is expected to average about 18.89 mills; the previous estimate called for an increase of 21.72 mills.
“For perspective, that savings is greater than the cost for HVAC upgrades at the middle school,” Willis said.
The bid from Baird also paid a premium of $1,132,872. Of that, $1 million will be retained for a contingency fund to cover unexpected costs. The rest was used to immediately reduce the debt. Any of the contingency not used for the project can be used to help pay the debt later.
The district is expected to close on the bonds June 27. Money will be invested in a state pool, earning interest until it’s needed to pay for various aspects of the project.
Construction is expected to begin next summer for the HVAC at the middle school. The new science/technology building at the high school is expected to open in the fall of 2020. The new elementary school is expected to open in the fall of 2021.
The district has reached agreements with all four property owners near the high school. Houses on the lots will be razed for the new science and technology building. The district offered to relocate the houses, Willis said, but the property owners chose to sell instead. The district previously acquired other lots near the site, as well.
Iola High School students can expect to be more accountable next year when it comes to absences, Principal Scott Crenshaw told the board.
A review of student absences last year shows more than 10 percent of all IHS students are “chronically absent.”
A total of 44 students out of 360 missed 15 or more days of school last year, the equivalent of three weeks. That figure doesn’t count absences that are excused by a doctor, for illness or school activities.
Seniors are the worst when it comes to total days missed, Crenshaw said, but he was more concerned with the absenteeism rate for freshmen. A total of 15 freshmen, or 18 percent of the 84-student class, were considered chronically absent.
He cited an article that said a lack of success as freshmen leads students to drop out of high school. He plans to introduce grade-level meetings next year as a way to intervene with freshmen who are often absent and have “F” scores in classes, in order to promote academic success early in high school.
Absenteeism will be “a major focus” next year, Crenshaw said. He plans to work with the school’s Teacher Advisory Group to focus on building relationships with students, parents and the community.
“I really believe chronic absenteeism isn’t just a school issue. It’s a home issue and a community issue, too,” Crenshaw said. “It helps when the community gets involved. If you see a kid out buying a soda at 1 o’clock, ask them, ‘Why aren’t you in school?’”
Middle school classes
Iola Middle School will offer a couple of new electives next year and increase remedial classes to help struggling students.
Principal Brad Crusinbery said the school will offer two new classes, a novel book study class and an introduction to theater arts. The school previously offered a drama class and students have requested its return, Crusinbery said.
The school also will offer a remedial math class, “Math Matters,” for sixth graders and a reading reinforcement class for sixth and seventh graders. Last year’s assessment test scores showed a need to improve those areas, Crusinbery said. A total of 14 students were identified for those classes.
“They’re maybe just missing some things,” he said. “If they can show us they don’t need to be in there, we’ll move them to another class. Maybe they didn’t test well but they understand the material.”
The school also will expand its health class to sixth grade, Crusinbery said. Sixth graders will learn age-appropriate health facts, with more information given in seventh grade.
Board members tabled a discussion on whether to expand a life insurance policy for employees. The district’s insurance, Blue Cross Blue Shield, requires a life insurance policy with a $10,000 death benefit. The board is considering whether to double the benefit at a cost of $1.20 per staff member per month, or another $5,700 annual cost.
But board members wondered if there are other options. Willis suggested the district look into what sort of wellness programs are offered through the insurance plan. Board clerk Terry Taylor said she would look into it, and said it’s possible the district could offer a wellness fair or other activities that could lower premiums.