Fox C-6 School District Superintendent Jim Wipke said the passage of a $70 million bond proposal on the April 2 ballot is vital to the district.
“My job as superintendent has been to give kids opportunities, and now we are giving a community an opportunity,” he said. “The opportunity we are giving the community is the chance to decide what kind of school district they want. On April 2, we will get to find out what kind of school district the community wants.”
The bond issue, called Proposition S, would finance numerous construction and renovation projects throughout the district.
The issue requires a 4/7 majority (57 percent approval) vote.
If approved, the bond issue would result in a tax levy increase of 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Fox’s current overall levy is $4.55 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, including 39 cents in the debt service levy. The increase would raise the overall levy to $4.95 cents per $100 assessed valuation, with 79 cents in the debt service levy.
The increase would cost the owner of a home valued at $150,000 by the Jefferson County Assessor’s Office an additional $114 annually in real estate taxes, which are charged on 19 percent of the home’s value. There also would be an impact to personal property taxes, which are charged at 33 percent.
John Brazeal, the district’s chief financial officer, said the average increase in real estate taxes for homeowners will be $103, and he said the majority of the 24,632 homes inside the school district will see an increase less than $103.
The 40-cent increase would pay off the $70 million in bonds in about 20 years, school officials said.
If the bond issue passes, Fox will use a third-party trust company to hold proceeds from the sale of bonds, district officials said. Bond proceeds would be kept separate from the district’s general funds and would be disbursed from the fund set up at the trust company to pay for projects authorized by the Board of Education. The company also would invest idle bond proceeds, account for all transactions involving bond proceeds, calculate and report arbitrage involving bond proceeds and help ensure all financial transactions involving bond proceeds are in compliance with the bond indenture.
The board will at all times be in control of how the money is used, having the final say of how much is spent and when it is spent on bond issue projects, Brazeal said.
Brazeal said, to his knowledge, this would be the first time the district would use a third-party trust company to handle proceeds from the sale of bonds. He also said it is how bond issue proceeds were managed when he was CFO at the Affton School District.
“It has its advantages,” Brazeal said. “This way there is complete accountability and transparency on spending bond proceeds for facility improvements.”
Wipke said another reason the district will use the third-party trust company is because the citizens committee Fox consulted with while formulating the bond issue recommended it.
“It is the way you should do business,” said Wipke, who will leave Fox at the end of the school year to take the superintendent job at the Ladue School District. “That was something that they (the citizens committee) valued.”
Some of the improvements the bond issue would fund include the construction of a new Antonia Elementary School, improving safety and security at all 21 buildings, energy efficiency upgrades, improved science labs, replacing a wing of classrooms at Fox High School, a new library at Seckman Middle School, a student commons area at Seckman High School, partial replacement of Meramec Heights Elementary School and a variety of improvements to HVAC systems, parking lots, playgrounds, roofs, lighting, flooring and kitchens throughout the district.
Nisha Patel, assistant superintendent in charge of secondary education who will take over as superintendent in July, said those improvements were targeted after numerous conversations throughout the district.
“One of the most successful things with Prop S has been the community engagement,” she said. “We had forums, meetings where the community said these are the things we want in our buildings. That is how we came up with the list.”
Wipke and Patel said they have heard from district residents who oppose the bond issue because they don’t believe Fox has spelled out how it will spend the $70 million.
The district released a chart listing estimates of what each project will cost overall, such as $3 million to install electronic door monitoring and card access to every school building. The chart was released at the Aug. 21 meeting and can be accessed through the Board of Education document archive.
The chart shows the district needs an estimated $63.75 million to complete all of the projects, and will hold $6.25 million as a contingency fund for projects that may cost more than initially estimated.
Wipke said the district estimates that a minimum of $700,000 will be spent on improvements at every school building.
“We talked to several different architectural firms to create the estimates, but we were not going to get down to the penny on these projects,” Wipke said. “There can be unforeseen things that happen and occur when you are taking on projects of this size. We felt like the best way to go about it is to publicly state here are the projects that would be done if Prop S passes and here are the best estimates possible at this point in time with the contingency of $6.25 million to be able to cover additional costs.”
Jacqui Ortmann, a district parent who is the chairwoman for the 10-person Yes for Prop S committee, said she believes enough checks and balances will be put in place for residents to have confidence that the bond money will be spent properly.
She pointed to the third party overseeing the bond issue funds and the district’s plans to create a finance committee made up of school employees and community members to provide input to the chief financial officer, superintendent and Board of Education on financial issues.
“We feel confident in the process and that it is right for our voters,” said Ortmann, 45, who had one child graduate from Seckman High School and has five other children currently in Fox schools. “Because of the transparency and the way the district has been moving forward the last four years, we feel confident this money will be put to what it says it will be put to. It will create a more sound, financial state for the Fox C-6 School District.”