Boards Votes 5-2 For $13.6 Million in School Improvements

Boards Votes 5-2 For $13.6 Million in School Improvements

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The Salem School Board of Trustees voted 5-2 in a special meeting Friday afternoon to approve several improvements for all three Salem Schools that would result in adding $13.6 million in bonds to property taxes in Gibson, Jefferson, Monroe and Washington townships. 

Approximately 50 people gathered from the public, with three students in support of the project, two who had questions about the project and five speaking out against doing all the projects at one time, but not opposed to the individual projects themselves. 

Initially, Board member Ron Haendiges, who made a motion back in December 2017 to call for a bond issue in 2018 for, and has been an active part of planning process of these projects, voiced concern in the special meeting that all projects might be too much to tackle at once. Long-time board member Steve Motsinger also voted to table the project. 

The motion to table the project did not receive support from the other members.

A motion was brought forward by Mark “Bubba” Abbot to continue with the projects. Dr. Tricia Wheeler seconded the motion and it passed 5-2.

The board had decided on having a series of informational meetings open to the public to discuss and highlight some of the school’s programs. A spaghetti supper was held last Tuesday night with an informational session to discuss the school’s planned e-learning project.  The school’s safety initiatives were also discussed along with the proposed projects. 

There was little objection from the crowd of over 200 Tuesday night. 

One man spoke at Friday’s meetings and wondered how he had just heard about the proposed projects at 3p Friday. 

Board Member Mark Abbott addressed the public’s lack of interest in the board’s monthly meetings. “We’ve discussed this for nine months….or about the past 9 months, we’ve been in discussion about these projects. Our school board meetings are open to the public. Every month. Some Monday nights there might be 3 people. Out of those 3, there is some representative of the school. Very few members of the public are ever here. Like Mrs. White said earlier. We volunteer our time to do what’s right for these children in this school system. Anything we discuss is public knowledge. That’s why this meeting is open today. This is not a pipe dream that we pulled out of the air last week and said, let’s spend $15 million. We have been working on this project for quite some time. These are things that we feel like our children deserve and our children need.”

The board discussed issuing bonds in 2018 at their December 2017 meeting for these projects. Haendiges made the motion to do that and the board approved that action 7-0. 

In January, the board heard a presentation from Tyler Leoffelholz from Umbaugh and Associates about financing options available to the school for the proposed projects. At that time the board said they would be deciding on the projects in February. 

Also at the January public meeting, the board voted 6-0 (Motsinger was not present) to appoint Kovert-Hawkins as the architectural firm for the projects. 

The board heard a presentation at that time from John Hawkins detailing the scope of proposed projects the administration believed the board should consider to properly maintain and update the facilities. 

At Friday’s meeting, board President Rebecca White told the audience. “We’ve spent countless hours working on this and we’re the only board in Indiana that is not paid. We do this because we are concerned about the education and the future of our students. These students and programs are passed over continually and it’s time we let them know [everyone] matter[s].”

Here’s what each board member had to say about the vote:

Erica Garloch:I think we’re at the point where our interest rates are low. I think a lot of times when something is tabled, it gets put off and put off and interest rates go up. I don’t have a crystal ball in front of me but I don’t see our interest rates going down. I’m trying to look at this — the whole package…do we go for it or not. I own 140 acres. It’s going to hit me hard. My last child has already graduated. I have grand kids here now. Am i willing to put money towards this? Yes I am.”

Dr. Tricia Wheeler: “I’m a taxpayer. I’ve been on the board for 12 years. I’m a parent with three boys in the school. I’m a new business owner. This affects me quite a bit also.  Like Erica said, I’m ready to invest in my kids. I’ve heard about an abandoned band room that was supposed to have been added on when we had the gym added on. At that time, the kids were put to the side. I don’t like putting any kids to the side. I was very upset when we lost the trades. The state took that away from us. I was in drafting. That’s why we use Prossor. Every student i talk to that goes, loves Prossor.

“Just think of what we can bring into the community by holding an ISMAA invitational here. Tournaments bring people here. The lights are a title 9 issue. So we could get sued. The pool is a safety issue. Heaven forbid one of our kids get poisoned because chemicals leaked out of the pipes. The tennis courts are so outdated. We’ve been made fun of by other teams who come to visit. My husband is Chief of Police and safety is a big issue. That’s a top priority. I was totally against the turf on the field. Football, is as much as I love it. I can name you music and choir kids who have gone on after high school. When I found out my soccer kids can play on there and we can have a great field for the band..Relay for Life is very important to this community. It’s gone downhill because some of them had been told not to use the field, we had less numbers this past year. PE class….that affects all students. I’m here for the students. I don’t think there is any faction that’s left out. We have put money into STEM projects, science projects. I’ve said too many times, let’s table it and it never comes up again. So I second the motion that this go forward.”

Monika Spaulding: “I’ve had several people talk to me about how our numbers have went down. I see these projects as something that will improve our schools and help those numbers go up. And to help all students feel they are important. I just wanted to say my two cents. About our numbers being down. But I think if we don’t improve things with the schools, we’re going to continue to see those numbers go down. I too have two kids in school right now. They have different interests. I feel like these projects have something for everybody and i’m proud to support them.”

Mark “Bubba” Abbott:I’ll address the sports issue. I’m a sports guy. You take a lot of this extracurricular stuff away from these kids, whether it be sports, choir or band….and you’re going to have a lot of issues with children who don’t want to come to school and don’t want to get their grades. They enjoy the choir. They enjoy the band. They’re excelling because they enjoy these things. Not everyone in our school system, I agree, is going to go on with a college degree. I think we’re one of the few schools….us and eastern….that have Prossor open to our students for trades…Those classes are endless there. Prossor is part of New Albany and Floyd County schools. In May 2017, the New Albany and Floyd County School Board passed an $87 million renovation. $21 million went to Prossor vocational school. We’re part of that. Our students have access to that. 

We’re not the only school around that has tried to keep what we’ve got and tried to add things for our students to excel in life.

Is sports part of this? 13 percent of the total project is sports related. So It’s not all about sports. It’s about trying to give things to our children – what they need and what they’re passionate about and providing that education for them. That’s why we’re here. I understand everyone’s position. I don’t like to pay taxes either. But it’s a part of life. And if we want…we can sit back on our heels and wait for things to happen, and that can cost us more money.”

Rebecca White:Dr. Thurston, we’ve needled and needled him to do these projects. He gave us the green light and said we could do this. We have put hours to this. We all are tight. All of us are diverse. I want to go over these projects. 

“Band and choir…When I was in school we had a band room that was part of the high school and part of the high school gym. When the renovation was done, they never did rebuild…they told the band we’re going to build you a room…but not today. It was put on the back burner financially. Bonnie Harmon has a history of how many times they promised this. When does it come to the point to say to these students, you matter. These children are saying to us, do we not matter? Yes, you matter, we just can’t do this at this time. Today we can possibly do this. I don’t think it’s a want. We’re not being reckless on this, we’re saying to our students, you deserve your own band room. I do believe that it’s something, I as a board member, and i think the majority of us, believe that this is not a want and but a need.

“POOL….if you talk to JD Wade Swift and Dan Mullins….The pool was put in in 1976 and it’s been band aided to get us through. It’s leaking water. Dan Mullins said the other night, if you don’t do something with this, it’s going to be more expensive when it all goes [bad]. The reason the pool was put into the SMS was to make sure that every student who came through knew how to swim.

“TENNIS….I had a daughter that played tennis and I realized how low on the totem pole it was. I do understand. The courts are very old. [approx. 30 years old] when other schools have come here they have asked if we’re every going to get new tennis courts.

“BRADIE SHRUM GYM….That floor is the original floor. Concrete with tile on top. I’ve spoken with teachers who have said it’s a liability because several students have been hurt on the floor. It’s an older floor and not safe. Not up to compliance. We have the best janitors and they can shine it up and make it look pretty. Something that needs to be addressed.

“BASEBALL LIGHTS..I called Duke Energy. We are out there shaking and moving. I asked if they would provide the lights. They said they couldn’t do it for free. I asked for any discounts. The girls have lights and the boys don’t…It’s a Title 9 issue. We can’t host tournaments like we could….that would generate money in the community. Revenue for the school and community. Duke did say they would donate the light bulbs. Which would be a significant savings.

“SECURITY….these projects were determined before the tragedy at Florida. Since then we’ve had several meetings trying to determine how to make the schools safer. We have been working since 2009 to improve safety every year since then. We’ve earmarked up to $1.5 million for security.

“We are voted on by the public and we serve the public, but our number one priority is the student. Just like a business, we produce a product and our product that we produce is our [children]. We want them to be the best they can be. I’ve had great positive calls and emails and text messages about this. [These people in support of this] are willing to invest in our children. I think this is something we – the school board – has taken very seriously. Everyone of these areas has had to come to us and plead their case and explained in great detail where and why we need this.”

Steve Motsinger: “Normally you would see me going along with a project like this. But I feel very….you know how I feel about this school corporation, students and the community. I’m not worried about how it’s going to affect me…I’m worried about the taxpayers. We have no guarantees on anything. I personally….me only…do not feel comfortable with going forward with this project as stated. [Ron] took the words right out of my mouth. I think he’s correct and him and I don’t agree a lot. I really feel like at the present time we do need to table this and have more discussion and prioritize. I agree with the needs. We need all this. Can we do this in steps?”

Ron Haendiges: “I appreciate everyone coming out today. There is passion on both sides of this issue. A lot to be considered. We are looking…this was discussed earlier…the projections have been increased by roughly a million dollars….from 12.6 to 13.6 that comes from an enhancement in security. I think everybody in this room would agree is a good thing. Hopefully this is on the higher end. I want to put it in context.

I know everybody around these tables, shares our passion for the best for our kids and for the best for our taxpayers. We all spend multiple hours per month and we knew it when we enlisted…it’s not a pitty party.

I’m married to a teacher. I have a son who plays sports. As mentioned by many of you, I too love this community. We have some fantastic teachers, facility staff, aids and cooks. First class staff throughout. Having said all that….balancing what we’re discussing with the concerns of the taxpayers, which most everyone fits into that category..I would want to put a motion to the board, to table this temporarily and come back and discuss it with school safety, number one; number 2, excellence in educational outcomes….if we look at test scores, but the fact of the matter, that’s what we have to look at our performance…we’re not where we need to be….thirdly, let’s look at these projects and debate the merits of these projects. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone the last 36 hours….passion on both sides of the issue.”

PROJECTS AND COSTS

Salem High School

  • Band and Choir Rooms – Estimated Cost – $3.3 Million
  • General Conditions – $495,000
  • General Contractor – $165,000
  • Soft Costs @ 30 percent – $990,000

Total Budget – $4.95 Million 

Salem Middle School

  • Pool Repairs – $1.65 Million
  • Seating and Pump Room Addition – $1 Million
  • General Conditions – $397,500
  • General Contractor – $132,500
  • Soft Costs @ 30 percent – $795,000

Total Budget – $3.975 Million 

Bradie Shrum Elementary School 

  • Tennis Courts – $420,000
  • Gymnasium – $425,000
  • General Conditions – $126,750
  • General Contractor – $84,500
  • Soft Costs @ 30 percent – $253,500

Total Budget – $1,309,750

Athletic Facilities

  • Outdoor PE Facility (football field) – $900,000
  • Press Box – $90,000 
  • Type 1 Concession Hood – $50,000
  • Baseball Field Lights – $200,000
  • General Conditions – $186,000
  • General Contractor – $62,000
  • Soft Costs – $327,000

Total Budget – $1.86 Million

Administration

  • Upgrade Security Systems in buildings, install GPS systems on buses – $1,534,500

Total Budget – $1,534,500

OVERALL TOTAL – $13,629,250

IMPACT ON TAX PAYERS

 

The biggest question and concern of the few who spoke out during Friday’s meeting was the impact on taxpayers. 

Board Attorney David Allen asked Assistant Superintendent Kim Thurston how the proposed projects would affect taxpayers. 

“Without a crystal ball?,” asked Thurston. “What we showed Tuesday night was a high projection and we projected a high of $15 million from our financial advisors [Umbaugh and Associates]. The worse case scenario. If we said the rate was going to change 10 cents and it went up 20 cents, everyone would remember that. We don’t think it will be that high. Besides that, 3 bond issues come off in ’23, ’24 and ’25 which amounts to about 30 cents of debt over that three year period.”

Thurston said the current debt service for the school is 43 cents per $100 of assessed value. 

Thurston outlined the following tax increases:

  • 2019 – “We could anticipate an initial increase of 9 cents,” said Thurston. That would take the rate to 52 cents. “We’re paying interest in that year only,” he said. 
  • 2020 – “Again, we’d be paying only interest, plus we’re having two bond issues coming off. It would be 10 cents lower,” said Thurston. The total in 2020 would be 54 cents.
  • 2021 and 2022 – “Again this is based on $15 million – not the $13 million. We estimated a 26 cents increase – which would go to 80.  And it’s 18 cents lower than that, i don’t know if that will be as memorable.”
  • 2023 – Thurston said 11 cents comes off, taking the total to 68 cents.
  • 2024 – Thurston said another 19 cents comes off, taking the total to 49 cents
  • 2025 – Thurston said 16 cents would be coming off, taking the total back to around 33 – 35 cents. “This would be below the 43 cents we’re currently at.”

The total maximum estimated tax increase is .37 which would impact taxpayers for two years and then begin to come down and eventually end up lower than it is in 2018. 

Here is a chart showing how the proposed tax rate would impact taxpayers. 

TYPE OF IMPACT ASSESSED VALUATION $1million Impact Per month Annual Impact for $1 million Annual Impact on $13 million
$50,000 Home $10,000 .29 3.48 45.24
$99,500 Home $32,425 .93 11.16 145.08
$150,000 Home $65,250 1.88 22.56 293.28
$200,000 Home $97,750 2.81 33.72 438.36
         
1 Acre Ag Land   .05 .60 7.80
$100,000 Commercial Business Property   2.88 34.56 449.28

 

Estimated median household income in 2016: $34,254 (it was $29,256 in 2000)

Salem: $34,254
IN: $52,314

Estimated median house or condo value in 2016: $89,192 (it was $63,700 in 2000)

Salem: $89,192
IN: $134,800

So looking at the average home in Salem, the average estimated increase in taxes would be less than $145 a year. 

Haendiges pointed out in the worst case scenario in 2021, it would increase to 80 cents.

“It’s up there for a couple of years and begins to drop off as existing bond issues roll off,” he said. “Based on current assessed values. If the assessment goes up, the tax burden could go down. If the assessed value goes down, then the burden to the tax payer could go up. Existing bonds rolling off would be assuming the board doesn’t take on more debt.”

Of the six areas in Washington County affected by the projected increases, Salem has the highest tax rate at 3.665.

  • Washington Township has a tax rate of 1.9489.
  • Monroe Township has a tax rate of 1.9183
  • Jefferson Township has a tax rate of 1.8325
  • Little York has a tax rate of 1.8602
  • Gibson Township has a tax rate of 1.8280

Monroe Township Trustee Susan Boling pointed out the economic impact of the projects. 

“I just wanted to ask everyone before you vote how poor our county is,” said Boling. “I’m the Monroe Township Trustee. I believe our township is the poorest in the county. Just this week someone was having trouble paying their electric bill and buying food. They make a mortgage payment and they put that first. I hope you will consider that we are the second or third poorest county in the state.”

Washington County was ranked in 2015 as the 11th poorest county in Indiana. 

Bill Suvak, former owner of Childcraft Industries in Salem, said he understood from owning a business that there are things you want to do, but sometimes have to prioritize them.

“My suggestion to the board, for your consideration, is this…my understanding of these projects they are all good and all necessary,” he said. “The huge burden in one big lump…having run a business for many years in this community, there were often times there were things I wanted to do that cost money, I had to schedule out, prioritize, pick and choose.”

“I have trouble understanding why all of a sudden this…..I suppose it could be argued that inflation can hit. We can look back and see that goes up and down. Please understand, I’m supportive of all the programs here, I’ve had three kids go through the Salem school system. I’ve got five grandchildren….four of them are currently here. It’s important to me. I’m not suggesting we abandon these things. But that we look at them with reasonableness and concern for the financial burden i have to believe that it’s placing on the taxpayers of our community.”

Mayor Troy Merry asked the board to consider how the increase would affect the City’s budget in regards to the ciruit breaker. 

“We were wanting to know how it was going to affect us down the road,” said Merry. “We have a limited amount of funds. Last year we were cut $400,000. The school was cut probably $200,000. We were wondering how that was going to affect the circuit breaker and how it was going to affect the funding we get to provide the services in the city that we need to provide for the citizens of this community.”

Thurston responded, “Troy, we talked earlier today. Right now, the tax caps were at $260,000. The City of Salem was at $458,000, Washington County is at $174,000. We count for 26 percent of the tax caps, the city accounts for 47 percent…Washington County is 18 percent….all that is 92 percent…which leaves about 8 cents for the schools, townships, etc.”

City Attorney Ryan Bower asked the board to table the action for 30 days so a study could be done to see how the projects would affect the circuit breaker through the end of the project. 

At that time, the motion to table had already passed and the board had a motion on the table to approve the projects. 

Wheeler said to Bower, “Why didn’t you bring this up when we had a motion to table this?”

Other comments came from Lane Roach, who works out of town. “I just learned about this yesterday afternoon,” he said. “I’m not in Washington County a lot. I work in Louisville. We are not on Facebook. I very rarely read the paper. But I pay my taxes. I get a call about this. Apparently there were a lot of people taken aback by this. I called a couple of school board members and got a couple of different answers. I felt it was important to take off early today to be here.”

The next regular meeting of the school board is Monday, March 12 at 6:30p at the presentation room of the high school.