During the May 15 Fredericktown R-I School Board meeting Superintendent Brett Reutzel introduced a long-range plan to address current facilities and the need to begin a no tax levy increase.
Over the next month, Reutzel began to receive questions from the community about what he had meant and the possibility of the construction of a new elementary school.
Reutzel said the current tax rate for the school district is $3.90 with $3.20 of that being the base rate and $.70 coming from the levy which was added in April of 2009. He said the $.70 has a sunset, meaning it would be eliminated in 2024.
“The $.70 levy was added in April of 2009 but it was proposed, because nobody likes taxes even nine years ago, that it has a sunset on it,” Reutzel said. “That was a way to sell it and it would eventually go away.”
Reutzel said in order to keep the $.70 levy the people would have to vote to extend the sunset another 15 years or eliminate it.
“I don’t in any way want to be deceitful,” Reutzel said. “We say no tax increase, which is true, but if voted not to eliminate it then the taxes would go down in 2024 but it would be devastating.”
Reutzel said the passage of the levy has been very beneficial to the district allowing needed improvements to be made to the facilities.
“The intent of the levy, as stated in the ballot, was to maintain and improve facilities as well as retain high quality staff,” Reutzel said. “Unfortunately, shortly after it passed, we experienced two significant events, the May 2009 storm and in April 2010 the loss of our middle school by fire.”
Reutzel said that once the new middle school was built, HVAC and a new roof were completed at the high school and the FEMA building was added to the elementary school the district finally began to fully realize the additional revenue of the $.70 levy increase.
“With this increase, we have added a new asphalt roadway into the intermediate school from Cap A Drive and made improvements to the parking lots at the primary elementary, middle and high schools,” Reutzel said. “We have made repairs to the flue from the boiler at the primary elementary, replaced the roof at our vocational agriculture and JROTC buildings, made repairs to the courtyard in our high school to eliminate flooding within the building, replaced the hot water heater that serves the high school, renovated our high school gymnasium and added ten buses to our fleet, seven new and three used.”
Reutzel said the amount of improvements and needed maintenance performed with the funds has been so vast he may have forgot some of the things.
Reutzel said in fall of 2016 the board was faced with a challenge when the facility used to educate the students from the local boys’ and girls’ home was destroyed by a fire. He said, after a discussion, they decided to replace the seven modular units at the intermediate school with a new 900-square-foot addition and purchase, with operating funds, a 12 Plex design building unit for students from the home as well as the alternative school.
“We believe we have been able to achieve all of these because of the passage of the increase, but will not be able to continue to address our facilities and operating needs in the same manner without the passage of a no tax levy increase,” Reutzel said. “If the sunset isn’t removed we would be back to status quo and would just be trying to make our monthly payments and not make additional improvements.”
Reutzel said he believes the first priority should be building a new elementary school.
“When I finally made the decision to make the comment on May 15, I was standing right here (elementary school) with the architect and said safety is always an issue and even though we have a covered walkway, elementary students still have to walk outside to eat lunch,” Reutzel said. “Plus there are still times throughout the day when children are walking back and forth. Seldom are they not escorted but I have driven by sometimes and seen a second grader. So safety wise you would want to make this one.”
Reutzel said the architect explained in order to enclose the area the new structure would have to support itself due to the age of the original building and being unable to have any load bearing structure attached to the FEMA building.
“The architect said he thought at a minimum it would cost $200 a square foot,” Reutzel said. “When he told me that I was just like okay this is going to cost $200 a square foot, you know what issues you’re dealing with when it comes to the gym, the cafeteria is what used to be the bus barn, the kids have to go outside twice to go eat, the ceiling of the building does not have enough ceiling space to run duct work. That’s why we have all window units, and, by code, you have to have a fresh air return.”
Reutzel said to replace the window units with an HVAC system a mechanical engineer said it would cost around a million dollars.
Reutzel said becoming a competitive employer is also a concern.
“We have been able to do a lot of things including give raises, which again that can be a touchy issue with some because you are using it to raise wages, but they have to understand we have the lowest starting pay in all the MAAA,” Reutzel said. “We lost a really good young math teacher this year. Now, he was from Farmington, so he may have wanted to go back there anyway, but there have been others. We have them for three or four years, and they fly the coop. We are going to have to become as competitive as we can, and we are still behind even with the raise we gave.”
“What I would like to do before I leave is to eliminate the sunset and give leadership the options that they need,” Reutzel said. “If we could pass a no tax increase levy to eliminate the sunset, then we could do some long-range planning and discussion about potentially building a new elementary school.”
Reutzel said the sunset does not take into effect until 2024 but he is getting the ball rolling now, because it will be a three or four step process to have funds in place to build a new building.
“If we could pass a no tax increase levy to eliminate the sunset, then we could do some long range planning and discussion about potentially building a new elementary school and then have another no tax levy increase,” Reutzel said. “And we would instead have $3.90 with $3.20 in operating and $.70 in capital. You could take part of that 3.90 and push it to fund three. It would just move funds around. Fund three is your debt service levy. That is where districts pass bond issues out of so we can’t do a bond issue until we have a fund 3.”
Reutzel said then a bond issue would have to be voted on by the public, which would not increase taxes but would allow the district to get a loan to sell the bonds and build the building.
“If I get asked about anything, a lot of times it is the track,” Reutzel said. “The track was built in the seventies when they were based on yards not meters. So now you have to expand the track and expand the corners and you have to address the draining.”
Reutzel said the elementary school would be first on his list, second would be adding on to the high school to remove the modular units and then third would be to make the needed repairs to the track.
It is anticipated, the measure will be placed on the ballot in April 2019.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at email@example.com