Chris Schenewerk felt so passionate about Smithton School District 130's need for a new middle school and upgrades to the existing school that he resigned his post as school board president to devote the last several months to informing the community about the bond issue the district is asking voters to approve on April 9. The district is seeking approval to issue $12 million in school building bonds for a period of 20 years.
Why is a new school needed?
The existing kindergarten through eighth-grade school is overcrowded at 506 students, surpassing the capacity of 412, according to Schenewerk. This school year, Schenewerk said the district added portable buildings, referred to as the annex, to house three fifth-grade classrooms.
"It's a temporary thing," he said. "We want to do something to get rid of that as soon as possible." Schenewerk noted the annex building does not have restrooms and is not the safest place for students.
The new middle school would include a track for the school's track team and community members to use. Currently, Schenewerk said track team members practice on streets in town.
The Smithton community would benefit as a whole from a new school, according to Schenewerk. "We really want this facility not just for the kids but for the community," he said. "Young families are moving to communities because of education. It's very hard to convince a family if you have an overcrowded school."
What improvements would be made to the existing school?
Smithton District 130 Superintendent Steve York said district officials are considering several improvements including adding air conditioning to the gymnasium, replacing heating units and increasing the space available for special education students.
How much will the bond issue cost?
If the bond rates remain historically low, Schenewerk said the owner of $100,000 home would pay about $202 more in property taxes per year, which is $16.75 a month or 56 cents a day.
What are opponents saying?
Brian Lester, spokesman for Concerned Citizens for Smithton School, said group members are opposed to the bond issue for several reasons.
Lester, of Smithton, who has three children at the school, said the data being used to support the bond measure is "inaccurate" and the population and housing market of Smithton is not growing rapidly.
Lester explained the 2010 census data indicated families were moving into Smithton, but that does not mean those children will attend public schools, since there are also three private schools in the area and some children may be home-schooled.
In addition, bond opponents are concerned about financial issues including the property tax increase and how the district plans to cover the operating expenditures of a new school building, Lester said.
The group disagrees with the calculations done by the school district on how much the ballot measure would increase taxes. Lester said the group calculated the ballot measure would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $225 a year or a total of $4,500 over the life of the 20-year bond.
Group members estimated operating a new school would increase the district's operating costs by 15 or 20 percent.
"Our biggest financial concern is how we will fund increased operating costs associated with a new middle school, especially given the significant reductions in Illinois' recent and future education funding levels," he said. "We want to make sure the focus stays on the kids' education, and we're concerned a new middle school could negatively impact that focus. We feel a 'no' vote is in the best long-term interest of the school district, the taxpayer and the student and is the best way to maintain and improve the quality of education."
What happens if the bond issue is approved?
Smithton District 130 could move forward with plans to build a new 47,000-square-foot middle school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. The district is working with TR,i Architects in Swansea. The new school would be located on 38 acres on the south end of town off Illinois 159. York said the district bought the land in 2006 for just over $622,000. Schenewerk estimated the new school would open to students at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. It would have the capacity to serve 286 students.
What happens if the bond issue fails?
The school board would have to consider its options, Schenewerk said. "They would have to look at other options like adding a few classrooms and a gymnasium" to the existing building, he said. "Eventually, however, you will run out of space to build on."
Concerned Citizens for Smithton School is holding a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2 at the Smithton Senior Center. Concerned Citizens for Smithton School also has a Facebook page.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.