Voters in Sumner County USD 358 (Oxford Schools) will go to the polls on Tuesday, November 6th (the general election date) to decide if now is the right time to make needed improvements to District schools. Recently, the Board of Education approved a resolution scheduling the election and applying to the State Department of Education for permission to conduct the vote. At their August meeting, the State Board of Education approved the application.
The election requests the authority to issue no more than $6 million in general obligation bonds to finance the proposed capital improvements.
The Oxford USD 358 Board started focusing on facility challenges more than two years ago. A Facilities Steering Committee was formed consisting of parents, patrons, and educators to determine needs and priorities. They considered a project list of more than $13 million, but prioritized the list to an affordable $6 million proposal. After input from many sources, the Committee identified areas for needed improvements: (1) Improvements to increase safety and security; (2) Updates and repairs for aging school buildings to extend their life; and (3) Improvements to provide additional educational space at Oxford Elementary School. The Board accepted their recommendation and approved the election resolution in late June.
The original portion of Oxford Elementary School was constructed 88 years ago (1930). The original portion of the Junior-Senior High building was built in 1967—more than 50 years ago. The Fine Arts Building was also constructed in 1967. After 5 plus decades, school buildings experience significant wear and tear and require upgrades and improvements to continue as quality educational assets.
Safety and security of both students and staff is a high priority. Recent tragedies in Columbine and other communities mandate security improvements. The Moore, Oklahoma and Greensburg tornados also emphasize the need for adequate storm shelter facilities to protect young people and staff in inclement weather.
The Elementary School is out of classroom space to serve students, especially those with special needs. The District Auditorium and support spaces are outdated and in need of upgrades to serve this vital part of the educational system. Vocational spaces in the Fine Art Building are also considered sub-standard and in need of improvements. Gymnasium floors at the Elementary and in the Fine Arts Building need replacement. Certain improvements are needed in attendance centers to comply with federal laws as to handicap access (ADA) and other codes. Roof improvements are also needed and part of the improvement budget.
Proposed improvements include new constructed areas to create additional spaces that will also provide hardened areas for needed storm shelters at both the Junior-Senior High and Elementary Schools. A corridor to connect the Junior-Senior High Building to the Fine Arts Building will enhance safety and security. A new roof, tuck-pointing of exterior walls, remodeling of a restroom, and installation of security windows in the office area are planned.
Improvements at the Fine Arts Building also include tuck-pointing of exterior brick walls, remodeling of the Auditorium lobby, restroom upgrades, and gym floor replacement. The Vocational area of the Fine Arts Building will benefit from renovations to the Shop area including improved ventilation. The Auditorium will receive improvements to electrical, flooring, seating and lighting.
Oxford Elementary will be expanded with additions to create 2 new classrooms and a library that will also function as a storm shelter area. The existing library will be repurposed into 2 additional new classrooms creating an early childhood wing. All told, improvements will result in a new library/storm shelter and 4 additional classrooms to resolve crowding issues. The Elementary improvements will also include tuck-pointing of exterior walls, some window replacement, creation of a controlled-access entry for enhanced security, a new gym floor, and updates to electrical and mechanical systems on the stage.
The timing of the bond is important as the District wants to take advantage of low interest rates and the current offer of 35% additional state aid to help pay both project and interest cost on a voted bond issue. The state aid benefit is an estimated $3.175 million that could be brought from Topeka to the benefit of USD 358, its communities, and certainly its students. The final payment on a previous bond will be made this September. The mill rate for the bonds in the 17-18 budget was 9.82 mills. The proposed bonds will require a mill rate estimated at 13.13 mills—an increase of only 3.31 mills as compared to the previous bond and interest mill rate. The net increase of 3.31 mills is added taxes of $38.11 per year ($3.18 per month) on a $100,000 home in the District.
The District has formed a K.I.D.S. Committee (Keep Improving District Schools) to develop and share information with USD 358 voters about the challenges, proposed solutions, and financing benefits. Anyone interested in joining the Committee is encouraged to contact USD 358 Superintendent, Dr. Cathi Wilson at the District offices. The goal of the KIDS Committee is that every 358 patron and voter have enough information to make an informed decision on or before November 6th.