Oct 27, 2022
No, Because We Have Other Options
Question on School Website: Some say it is not bad to vote down a bond because students in districts with a failed bond issue have survived until the school board presented a compelling argument.
School’s Answer: Voters record yes or no on a ballot issue for many reasons. A look at recent bond initiatives that failed suggest the voter did not like a specific item or how the bond initiative affected them personally. Bennington Public Schools does believe it has a “compelling” reason to place this ballot before the voters. As stated, Bennington High School will be over capacity by approximately 130 students with no growth and over capacity by over 300 students with normal growth by the fall of 2026.
If the voters do not pass the bond issue as presented in November, the District will likely need to make short-term accommodations using money from the general fund. Delaying construction could also translate into higher bond interest rates and construction costs. Continued overcrowding at the high school will create a larger student to teacher ratio and less options for class selection due to limited classroom space.
First, let’s make it clear. I am not against schools, building schools, or school bonds. I believe it needs to be done in a fiscally responsible manner. Other schools manage this well. I do not think we should pass a bond that places the district and tax payers in a precarious position in terms of the amount of debt the district is carrying and the amount of growth needed to avoid additional property tax increases, because of fear mongering. That may take care of the kids but not the community. We all want what is best for the kids and teachers. There are ways to get this done responsibly for sustainment. I truly believe your new school board will take the time to thoughtfully re-evaluate the numbers, the economic environment, and even develop creative solutions while trying to address all student needs.
Because of the Title IX lawsuit, we have tons of data on hand. Below is a table with all the previous school bond presentations and predictions on enrollment. The school has removed all the Weebly websites, thus if anyone wants the data, I can send. What is particularly interesting in their current 2022 presentation is the enrollment numbers are different for the high school on the first three slides. Thus, it is difficult to know which numbers they are predicting. I will assume it is the highest. You can see their forecast accuracy has not been the best, but has gotten better.
Many parents had children at the current high school, including my own, before the new middle school was built. It had 880 students or 130 over capacity at the time (750) 117%. We did not have trailers. We had some cool classrooms in the hallways with all the glass and yes it was tight, but they all managed. My kids have also been schooled in trailers (Concordia) and pretty meager buildings with no A/C (Mt Michael). They never complained. The High School now has a capacity of 1,150.
The two middle schools have 750 capacity each. Buildings are very expensive. Never in the business world would we let capacity go to waste. That is not how you utilize an asset. I do think the new school board will act fast on this issue, but let’s say worst case scenario it takes some time. Why couldn’t we do something creative such as place Grades 6 & 7 in Middle School #2 and Grades 8 & 9 in Middle School #1 across from the High School as shown in the table below. You could arrange classes to be more conducive for 9th graders to walk across the street if needed. They are all still close to the sports facilities. This would maximize your capacity all the way to 2028 on a no growth model. Even on a growth model, it’s doable and buys you a lot of time. You don't have to start immediately, just the future year that makes sense.
If you look at the last 4 high schools that have been built, it does take 2-3 years depending on design, etc... Even if you do not like the suggestion above and the school’s prediction does hit this time, we will be over by 150 students in 2025 per the schools "growth" prediction just like we lived with in 2016. Given the economic environment with interest rates over 7% and developers slowing down or cutting down new houses in the area, it would be wise to pause and have a new school board re-assess. We have time and options.
Additonaly, all of these prior enrollment predictions happened while we were experiencing double-digit valuation growth. The predictions each time were too high. Some years more than others. No one truly knows the exact amount of children or their ages that are moving into the district. Valuation growth is also made up of "increased valuation of current homes due to reassessments or sales" + "added valuation to the tax base of new construction homes".
Finally, just realized the last bond included $2.6M to expand Middle School #2 to 975. The last bond was issued in August 2022 so that money is sitting there and we are paying interest.