By Martha Stoffel
Voters in O’Fallon District 90 will decide April 2nd on the district’s purchase of land for a future elementary school site.
During their October meeting, the District 90 school board approved a non-binding resolution to appear on the ballot during the consolidated election in April for the issuing of $2,260,000 in school bonds for the acquisition of a site for school building purposes.
The district has a contingency offer to acquire 81 acres of land located at 734 Milburn School Road. The parcel is currently bordered by Skyline Church and the residential development Augusta Green on the west and a 56-acre farmland parcel and the OTHS Milburn campus on the east.
During the 2016-2017 school year, the board reviewed school boundary lines and received data from the City of O’Fallon regarding current and future residential development. A majority of the residential growth has been in the northwest corner of the city, an area currently without an elementary school. Feedback from the community during the boundary lines discussions requested the board and administration develop a long-term plan to accommodate future growth.
District 90’s enrollment figures were presented at the meeting, with growth from 3,490 students in 2014 to 3,717 in 2018. Based on residential development projects, enrollment is expected to continue to grow. The current facilities are not at capacity, but Superintendent Carrie Hruby mentioned the timeline for planning and constructing a new school takes many years. “We’re probably talking about a 10-year project into the future,” said Hruby. Building an elementary school can take 5-6 years, with the needed voter approval, bond sales, architectural and engineering processes and construction. “Without land, you have to back up even further.”
As the district continues to grow, they can only adjust boundaries so much before getting to a point where they can no longer offer tuition preschool (a revenue generator for the district), transportation costs become too high and the number of transfer students increases too much.
The board has a desire to be ahead of the growth and the district’s facility needs, and the first step of that process is acquiring land. The board believes this parcel will meet the district’s future needs and the timing of the purchase will allow the best price in a growing part of the city.
The board is not required to seek voter approval for the issuance of bonds for the purchase of land. The resolution for the April election will be non-binding, but the board has indicated they will issue bonds based on the election results. Voter approval is legally required for new school construction, so the board feels the results for the purchase of land will be a good indicator whether the voters will approve of the concept that someday an elementary school would be there.
The parcel is currently used as farm land, and the district will plan to allow farming to continue after purchase as a means of revenue while waiting for the time to construct a new school. The largest elementary parcel of land currently owned by the district is Moye Elementary, at 32.25 acres. The parcel proposed for purchase is 81 acres, so not all of the acquired land will be needed to construct an elementary school. The portion of the land not needed could be sold to provide an offset revenue or continue to be farmed.
The district’s financial auditor, Steve Tripi from Schorb & Schmersahl LLC, presented the FY2018 annual audit to the board at the same meeting. The firm’s analysis showed all revenue funds for the district were up from the previous year, primarily due to the levy. Expenses were held relatively consistent over the last year which, with increased revenues, allowed the district to end the year with a surplus.
Board president John Wagnon pointed out the levy has gone up because the equalized assessed valuation (EAV) for the district has increased. The audit showed a $19 million increase for 2017 over 2016 in EAV. Tripi indicated that, in comparison to other district’s they audit, O’Fallon is “within the top 10 percent of maintaining control of your budget, and continuing to raise sufficient revenues in spite of some cuts here and there.”
Superintendent Hruby followed the auditor’s review by explaining a favorable audit can increase the district’s financial profile score with the state board, and also impacts the district’s credit rating. A favorable credit rating will allow the district to have lower bond rates. The better the district’s bond rating, the lower the interest rate they will receive when issuing bonds, like the board will do with approval to purchase the land.