Lindbergh voters to consider $32 million bond issue Tuesday

Sandfort, board president address non-residents critical of Proposition R

By MIKE ANTHONY

A $32 million bond issue that would fund “critical building repairs” and “safety issues” throughout the Lindbergh School District will be considered by voters next week.

District officials are calling Proposition R a no-tax-rate-increase bond issue. If Proposition R is approved by voters Nov. 7, the district’s debt-service tax rate will remain unchanged at 38 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, but it will be extended for a six-year period. A four-sevenths majority — 57.14 percent — is required for approval.

Projects the $32 million bond issue would fund include new roofs, the replacement of rooftop HVAC units, classroom doors that lock from the inside for elementary schools, fire alarms and security cameras in most buildings, and renovations and additions to Kennerly and Sappington elementary schools. The board voted in August to spend $815,000 on predesign services for the projects; those plans will be good regardless of when they’re used, according to district officials.

Rough estimates for the projects by category are:

Safety

• Complete replacement of fire alarm systems — $3.45 million.

• Locking classroom doors for the elementary schools and early childhood education center — $800,000.

• Security surveillance — $400,000.

• Miscellaneous safety projects, including emergency vehicle access, stairwell handrail replacement, intercom replacements and fire main replacement — $1.25 million.

Major building repairs

• Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning projects — $2.35 million.

• Plumbing projects — $400,000.

• Roof replacements — $10.3 million.

• Miscellaneous major repair projects, including replacement or repair of lights, storm piping, exterior doors, flooring and building cracks — $1.85 million.

Limited building replacements

• Minor building addition at Kennerly Elementary — $2.65 million.

• Partial building replacement at Sappington Elementary — $8.55 million.

While initial planning for the bond issue began in December 2002, the needs of each school building were reviewed by individual teams of parents, teachers and students in September 2005, and a District Oversight Committee was established in October 2005. The Oversight Committee was was comprised of a parent leader from each school’s building team, principals, additional parents and administrators.

Proposed projects at each building were reviewed against the following filters:

• Safety and health.

• Educational needs.

• Legal, including building and fire codes and compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

• The greatest good for the greatest number — students and teachers affected by projects.

Oversight Committee members met four times before submitting their list of recommended projects for the proposed bond issue in February. School board members voted in August to place the bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Superintendent Jim Sandfort told the Call last week that Proposition R will address critical building repairs and safety issues throughout the district.

“… We’re in a position now of addressing the most critical needs in the district as seen by parents and seen by staff members in terms of what really needs to get done,” he said. “Each one of those projects has a history behind it that you can say: ‘Well, it’s not just something that came up in 2006.’ No, there have been requests that have been on board in some cases for five, 10 years. Some of the stuff like the structural work at Sperreng with the exterior wall, we did some of that in the last Prop R. This is finishing up that work, and the Sperreng staff for years has said: ‘We really need to get these partitions between the classrooms replaced with soundproof partitions so we can do a better job of working with kids.’

“And parents in looking at that said: ‘It’s time. It’s time to be doing this. It’s time to be getting the doors taken care of.’ So, to me, it’s a matter of you’ve got safety issues on the ballot, you’ve got critical building repairs on the ballot, you have some additional classrooms on the ballot, all of which are essential. And of all the concerns that I’ve heard expressed, of all the people who have written in, not one has indicated that the roofs don’t need to be replaced, that safety locks shouldn’t be put on,” Sandfort said.

Some have questioned why slide locks can’t be used for the elementary-school classroom doors.

“What you can do in our home is much different from what you can do in a public institution. There you have code requirements, you have legal requirements, and our goal is to take the doors that we have, put the interior locking mechanisms on them and do it in the most cost-effective way possible. That’s what we have always done,” Sandfort said.

Board President Mark Rudoff told the Call that he believes Proposition R is primarily a safety issue.

“For me, the most important thing is the safety. That comes first and it always remains our first priority — to make sure that we have a safe and secure learning environment for each of our children in every one of our schools,” he said.

“The second, of course, is our obligation to maintain the physical plant. There are a number of critical repairs that we need to attend to. We can’t band-aid them. We can’t continue to patch and pray is the way I like to refer to it. Can’t do it any more,” Rudoff said, noting that if short-term repairs on some of the projects are attempted, it ultimately will cost the district — and taxpayers — more money in the long run.

Unlike past Lindbergh ballot measures, a barrage of letters to the editor — including some written by non-residents — have urged Lindbergh voters to say “no” to Proposition R.

“I guess I have difficulty with individuals who may have a lot of other concerns with how the district is run, why they would take on issues of safety and critical building repairs — and they haven’t addressed those,” Sandfort said. “They’ve put up a lot of other kind of comments, but they’ve not addressed critical building repairs and safety issues, and I guess I’m hopeful as superintendent that the rest of the community will look at that and say: ‘Yes, you know these things really need to get done. We appreciate the fact that the board has structured it so that it would not increase taxes. Let’s just move forward and take care of what needs to get done and get the buildings in good shape and give kids a safe place to learn. That’s what I think this issue is all about.”

He continued, “I would like to think that those who are opposed would live within the school district and be involved with district affairs. It’s — yeah, it does seem to be odd that those outside the school district would want to be telling voters inside the school district and parents inside the school district how to run their district. I have a whole lot more respect for those who live within the district who have concerns. But if you live outside the district, then I would say get involved with your own school district and help make that a better district because hopefully everybody wants a great public education system because it builds the community. It’s a terrific asset …”

Rudoff said, “I’ve been irritated — I think is the best word that I can use — I’ve been irritated by the fact that we have people from outside the school district, that aren’t Lindbergh constituents, don’t have any kids in school, don’t have any ax to grind ostensibly with Lindbergh and don’t have any skin in the game, they’re writing into the papers opposing this ballot proposition. And, quite frankly, I don’t understand it and further, anything that I’ve seen that says vote ‘no’ doesn’t address the issues of what we’re asking the voters to approve.

“If you don’t like an item that Prop R is proposing, then let’s talk about it. But that’s not what I’m seeing and I’m disappointed. I expected better. If you’re going to oppose it, just say what you’re opposing and explain why. But that’s not what’s happening,” he said, noting the concerns raised in recent letters to the editor were not voiced at public forums on Proposition R nor at school board meetings. “If there’s opposition to what we’re doing, then let’s talk about the opposition to the projects and talk about the projects piece by piece. What we’re talking about are legitimate needs. They don’t deal with paying anybody’s salary … It has to do with facilities. It has to do with the structure of the physical plant of the school district.”

District officials emphasize that the bond issue does not raise taxes, but extends the current debt-service tax rate for six years.

Noting there’s no such thing as “a free lunch,” Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane said, “So we’re not trying to mislead or give misinformation. It’s simply — we think it’s the responsible way of doing business. The alternative rather than a no-tax-increase bond sale would be to raise taxes … The survey that we did was clear people really preferred we not do it that way and said: ‘Please do it in a way that is already within my budget.’ And so when we do a no-tax-increase (bond issue), we mean that that rate is not going to go up and that you will not pay any more taxes this year than you did last year because of Prop R.

“In other words, you have it built into your budget; we’re not going to ask you for more … As far as I’m concerned, Prop R, really that ‘R’ really stands for responsibility. We have the responsibility to maintain the buildings that the public has given us. To do anything other than that would not be responsible. When you fund it, you also fund it responsibly. You use a bond issue. A bond issue goes over a 20-year period. (Proposition R) adds six years to the current bonds, and so the people who will pay those costs primarily will be the people who got the benefit of the facilities …”

Asked what will happen if voters reject Proposition R, Sandfort said, “… My recommendation, as I have stated previously, would be to recommend to the board to put it on the next ballot. And I know there’s been the comment: ‘Well, we told you no once.’ My response to that is: That doesn’t change the fact that we could have a safety concern come up in a building. It doesn’t change the fact that our roofs need to get done. It doesn’t change the fact that this is the most appropriate way to structure this work. All that’s the same.

“It only tells me that we have not done a good enough job of sharing information and sharing the need. I don’t know how we’ll do that … The real question is how are you going to go back to the voters and relay the information in a more powerful, personal connected way? The need does not change,” he said, adding he does not know what the board will do with that recommendation.

“I have a commitment to the kids. I have a commitment to the community to be sure that these facilities are kept up and in good shape, and I would be remiss if I did not take it back to the board and say this needs to get done …,” Sandfort said.