Friday, July 6, 2018

Update on the Summer

I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer and finding time to relax, heat up the grill, and spend quality time with family and friends. Our projects in the district are moving along nicely, and in some cases we are a bit ahead of schedule. The only sour note is that the air conditioning is still out in the middle school (which includes the central office). We are very optimistic this will soon be remedied! Next week it is supposed to be in the 90s again, so the sooner the better! Now, I don't know about you, but it is kind of hard to believe we are past the 4th of July! To me, once we pass that date on the calendar it begins the mad rush to the start of the school year. 

The renovations in the elementary school include the replacement of windows in the 4th and 5th grade wing, along with the lighting and ceiling grid. These classrooms will also be outfitted with the mini-split air conditioning units like were installed last year in the early childhood wing. The two computer labs in the library are also having doors installed that open into the hallway because we believe at some point in the near future those spaces will be needed for classrooms. We have also approved work to replace the north entrance to the middle school. You may recall all the trouble we have had with that entrance over the last year. It really began to deteriorate by the end of the school year. 

We are ahead of schedule with regard to hiring teaching positions as well. At this time, all our faculty positions are filled. This is great news, and somewhat rare for us. Usually we are waiting until a bit later to make a decision as to whether or not to open an additional section of kindergarten. Enrollment projections came in early and large enough to warrant that third section early so it was nice to be able to make those decisions early on. Likewise, we are not trying to fill a teaching position in a hard to fill area, which has also been commonplace for us the last couple of years. 

In the coming weeks we will really start to ramp up our operations in anticipation for the start of the school year. Supply orders are beginning to be placed, curriculum is on the way, and very soon the registration material will be mailed out. Our custodians are very hard at work getting the buildings ready for the return of students, and before we know it they will be putting the final coat of wax on the floors in the hallways. 

Now, if we could just get that air running! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Master Facility Planning Identifies and Prioritizes Needs

In 2012, the Board of Directors adopted a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategic plan titled Hudson 2020. We are now on the eve of a date and time that seemed so far into the future! For certain a lot has changed in those intervening years. Our financial position is markedly improved, enrollment is on the rise with new housing developments driving growth, and most importantly, many of the recommendations from Hudson 2020 have been implemented. With these changes, new challenges have emerged that require our attention. Over the last several months, a group of community members, parents, teachers, administrators, and board members have been meeting with architects and engineers to consider what our next steps forward might be as we consider and contemplate these new and exciting challenges that are now emerging. At the upcoming June board meeting, the Board of Directors is expected to approve this plan as a 'flexible framework for handling varying levels of future community growth' (p. 2). It is very important to note this master plan is not meant as a definitive project or series of projects to be completed in the near term, but rather to inform a long term vision for the school district. 

At a community stakeholder group meeting held at the end of February, the committee developed and determined a list of priorities. While those priorities are listed on page 30 of the report, the top three included completing deferred maintenance and a refreshed image of district facilities, locker room improvements, and improved security. At the same time, we asked the master plan be developed with an expectation that enrollment will grow to a point where a four section elementary school will, at some point be in our future.

Phase 3 work could include some of what is
described in the schematic above.
In the short term, much of our work will be a continuation of what we started last summer which is the renovation of the elementary attendance center. This summer we are completing what has been commonly referred to as 'Phase 2' and includes the HVAC, windows, lighting and ceiling work. But in addition to this deferred maintenance, we are seriously looking at how improved security, a refreshed image of district facilities and locker room improvements will fit into our next project, which we have termed 'Phase 3'. This project would include a new elementary office with a controlled entrance located on the north end of what is now the 4-5 grade wing of the elementary building, an expansion and remodeling of the middle school commons, renovations of the media center, remodeling of the locker rooms directly across from the competition gym, and replacing all the entrances at each attendance center with key fob access for improved security.

A long term plan may include the construction of a junior high
building that connects the elementary and
high school buildings together.
But to complete this next phase of work and consider future projects will require a change to our financing strategy. In the past, the board has operated under a philosophy of 'pay as you go', meaning that design, size, and execution of a project was completely dependent on having cash on hand in order to complete the project. That strategy has served us well, but we have reached a point where it no longer makes financial or practical sense to continue in this manner. As a simple example, the project we are currently contemplating (Phase 3) is between $4-$5 Million. It would take between 8-10 years to accumulate the cash needed to execute on this project. Furthermore, this doesn't consider the rising cost of construction, which historically increases between 4-5% annually.

Instead, a financing structure that utilizes revenue bonds seems to make a lot mores sense, particularly since it has a historic interest rate of 2-3% for schools. In this case, it would seem to make much more economic sense to utilize a revenue bond instead of the pay as you go strategy. That is what the board is currently contemplating and will take up at their June 18th board meeting. It is also very important to remember, a revenue bond is not a property tax increase. A revenue bond for the school district is simply a financing mechanism where we leverage our future sales tax revenue. This is commonly referred to as a TARB (Tax Anticipated Revenue Bond). Aside from the fact there are no property tax implications, the other upside is this enables our district to  meet an immediate need while at the same time preparing for growth. We'll talk more about our plans for future growth and what that means for our district in a future post. For a preview, I would encourage you to take a look at our master plan.

In the interim, if you have questions, comments, concerns, or even other ideas: please reach out to your board members or myself. While the ideas discussed in this master plan are conceptual and would require a lot of community engagement and input, at a minimum they provide us with a framework from which to begin a conversation. This is a very exciting time to be a Pirate.