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DECATUR — The Board of Education on Tuesday voted to increase property taxes to fund a building program estimated to cost at least $55 million. 

Under the plan recommended by Chief Operational Officer Todd Covault and approved on Tuesday, the district's property tax levy would rise 2 cents a year per $100 of equalized assessed valuation for the next 10 years. By the 10th year, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $66.67 annually toward the debt, which would be paid over the next 22 years.

“The other side of this is, the board will be abating part of the debt service,” Covault said.

Paul Fregeau

Fregeau

The plan is to use $950,000 from operational savings annually to offset costs so they won't have to levy as much in property tax.

The five-year construction plan, dubbed BOLD (for Building better Opportunities for Learning in Decatur), will be funded by issuing bonds over the next two years from working cash, funding and health/life/safety. Estimates of costs have ranged from $55 million to more than $60 million to fulfill the entire project, which aims to reduce the number of school buildings from 22 to 17.

Renovations plowing ahead at Stephen Decatur Middle School

The board's two priorities, discussed at the July 9 meeting, are to mitigate the impact of additional debt on property taxes and to protect operational funds that directly support student instruction.

The provisions of the BOLD plan that will be in place in the 2019-20 school year include combining the two middle schools at the Stephen Decatur Middle School building and repurposing Harris School as the alternative education center. Air conditioning has been added to several buildings, with the ultimate goal of having air-conditioning in all district schools.

Other parts of the plan include combining both Garfield and Enterprise's Montessori programs at the building formerly housing Thomas Jefferson Middle School, with $6 million in renovations approved by the board; moving French Academy to the Enterprise building; expanding Dennis School into two buildings that will include French once that school moves to Enterprise; replacing the current Johns Hill Magnet School building with a new building on the same property; and consolidating elementary schools, closing Durfee, Baum, Oak Grove and Stevenson schools and reassigning those students to Muffley, Franklin and Parsons schools. Durfee is a magnet school and those students will return to their home buildings.

During an update on current projects at the meeting, Fred Bouchard, assistant superintendent of support services, told the board that 90 percent of the renovations are complete at Stephen Decatur and the building can open on schedule on Aug. 14, though some of the work is yet to be finished to accommodate the increased number of students that will be there because of combining the two middle schools.

Work at Harris to convert it to the alternative learning center will be complete this week, and work at Hope Academy is already complete. Air conditioning at Pershing Early Learning Center and Enterprise School will be completed by the end of the week.

In other business, the board approved the tentative budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Covault said he anticipates state funding of $53.2 million, an increase of $1.8 million over last year, though local revenue will decline thanks to declining Equalized Assessed Valuation in the district, which lowers property tax revenue to the district. Transportation reimbursement should increase by about $190,000.

Some usual expenditures can't yet be finalized due to contract negotiations with the Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants and with security guards, and the district also has 35 vacant positions.

The budget is not balanced but the district is not required to produce a reduction because there are enough reserves in district funds to pay expenses for three years.

Because school districts have to make an educated guess about state funding levels for their tentative budgets, Covault said, he did not know until Tuesday that state funding would be $250,000 more than he estimated, and the corporate personal property replacement tax will also be $250,000 more, which will offset the deficit by the time the budget is finalized and approved in September. 

The public hearing on the budget will be immediately prior to the board meeting on Sept. 10, with the hearing set for 6:30 p.m. that day, at the Keil Building, 101 W. Cerro Gordo St.

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

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