After using a trailer to house classrooms and offices for the last six years, officials from Smithton School District 130 are asking voters for permission to spend $5 million on a building expansion.
It will be the third ballot measure that residents have seen since the district started leasing the trailer as a temporary solution to an ongoing space issue.
Smithton’s trailer has no running water, so when fifth-graders took their classes there, the students and teachers had to walk through an alleyway and into the school to go to the restroom.
The alley was blocked off to traffic during the school day, and students were given a whistle when they walked outside.
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Voters rejected the last two proposals to address Smithton’s growing student population: increasing property taxes in 2013 to build a new, $12 million junior high school and increasing sales taxes in 2017 to pay for a $1.5-$2.7 million expansion.
The district will try again in the Nov. 6 election with the $5 million expansion plan. The goal would be to pay off the construction in 20 years.
What would it cost taxpayers?
The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an estimated $4.33 more per month, for a total increase of $1,039.20 over 20 years.
The estimated increase for the owner of a $350,000 home would be $17.52 per month, or a total of $4,204.80.
“We don’t take it lightly,” said Brian Lester, the school board treasurer. “... We assess that there is a need.”
Before he was on the board, Lester was the spokesman for the community group that opposed the $12 million construction plan for Smithton. He said that at the time, the group thought building a new school “wasn’t a fiscally conservative move.”
This time, Lester said board members asked the community for recommendations, which they think they can deliver for $5 million.
What would it pay for?
The district heard from about 150 residents, who said the top priority should be to maintain class sizes, according to Dale Barschak, the school board president.
“Well, then we’re going to need more classrooms,” Barschak said.
If voters approve the proposal in November, the district plans to get rid of the trailer and add new classrooms, a gym, band room and stage, as well as first-floor bathrooms, which the school doesn’t have now.
It would also create space for school buses to pick students up and drop them off, so they don’t have to block street traffic.
It would turn the old gym into a cafeteria, which is the area that can feel the most cramped now, according to Superintendent Ryan Wamser. He said some students eat as early as 10:40 a.m., so there is enough room for everyone.
Why is the district asking for it?
The last time Smithton School District 130 expanded its building was 2002, when it had 377 students.
The district recently paid $24,356.20 on construction, so students could move out of the trailer for this school year, as enrollment reached 548. Wamser said that’s the highest it has ever been.
The building work added two classrooms. Now, the trailer is being used for the school’s library and for office space, including for the school psychologist and social worker.
School officials think enrollment could continue to grow as residential development grows in Smithton. Village Mayor Raymond Klein confirmed that a subdivision is planned with up to 142 new homes.
Meanwhile, school leaders are still considering whether it would make sense to consolidate with nearby districts.
They hired consultants to study the question of consolidation for Smithton, Freeburg and St. Libory schools last year.
According to Wamser, the consultants’ final report stated that combining would likely mean redrawing boundary lines. The boundaries determine where kids go to school and could end up sending more students to Smithton’s building, Wamser said.