Award-winning school should move forward with remodeling project

Award-winning school should move forward with remodeling

To the editor:

Mt. Vernon School Board recently approved a proposed middle school remodel. The school has had only minor and mostly cosmetic updates in its 40 years. An exception is the swimming pool, which a few years ago replaced the old pool that leaked.

Since the cost does not exceed $10 million, the project will not be subject to a ballot referendum. Instead, it can be contested using the remonstrance process with petition drives. Anyone opposing the project must collect the signatures of 500 property owners or registered voters to show significant community opposition to the project. Once the signatures are certified, both sides would conduct a second petition drive for or against the project. The side with the most certified signatures wins.

Before you say, “Here we go again,” and get out your walking shoes, please consider the following.

A committee studied options for this project for about eight months. At three community meetings, the public could ask questions and give input. The committee included leaders of the 2005 remonstrance Dave Bush, Clyde Hall and myself, as well as former school board member Bob Hiday, the only board member to vote against the $136 million project in 2005. This committee unanimously recommended this project to the school board for approval.

It will not raise your tax rate. The school system recently refinanced existing debt to take advantage of low interest rates and saved $8 million over the next 20 years.

Does this mean your property taxes won’t go up? Not necessarily. What you pay could still increase because of two things unrelated to the schools. First, the value of your property could increase. Second, the state legislature recently changed the way farm land is assessed. This will reduce property taxes for farmland; that revenue must be made up by residential and commercial property owners. There is a significant amount of farmland in the school district.

This refinancing — combined with changes in policies and procedures, a recovering housing market and competitive bidding by vendors, as well as an additional tax levy approved by referendum two years ago — has put the school district’s general operating fund back into the black. Mt. Vernon recently announced it will forego the third year of the referendum levy; it’s the only school district in the state to give referendum-approved tax money back to the community. This demonstrates its commitment to asking for only what is needed.

The building can no longer support recently recommended curriculum changes, particularly in science. This means the facility negatively impacts the quality of education our students receive. That is not acceptable.

Dr. Shane Robbins was recently voted Superintendent of the Year in East Central Indiana by his peers. Brian Tomamichel was named Business Manager of the Year in our district. U.S. News and World Report named Mt. Vernon the 28th best high school in Indiana last year. The board and administration have turned the corner. Much has been accomplished; more remains to do.

For these reasons, I ask that no one start a petition drive against this project. It is both needed and financially responsible. I ask you to support it.

Shelton Oakes