LA CENTER — In order to address rapid growth in La Center, the La Center School District is in the process of placing a bond measure on the Feb. 13, 2018 election ballot.
According to Superintendent Dave Holmes, the city of La Center and the school district is “poised to grow at a very fast rate in the near future.” Holmes said that within the city limits of La Center, there are eight residential sites in various stages of the development process. There are 308 home lots currently under construction, and over 500 lots planned to be developed in the future, Holmes said.
Increased development in La Center means that more students have enrolled in La Center schools. Holmes said that the district currently accommodates 1,742 students, and there has been a 19.8 percent increase in student population in the last seven years.
To keep up with the influx of students, the school district has added portable classrooms to help address overcrowding in school buildings. While portables have worked in the past, Holmes said that the district does not have any more room on its current campuses to add more portables, unless they were to be placed on athletic fields.
“We would be cannibalizing our athletic fields,” Holmes said, “in order to house more students” in portables.
Holmes said that “we’ve literally used every cubby and closet for everything we can think of to accommodate student space.” The bond, Holmes said, is needed to build a new school to reduce overcrowding as more students move into the district.
According to Holmes, the discussion for the current bond proposal began last year, and has been based on community input. Holmes said that the school district owns property outside of La Center that would fit a small elementary school, but that community feedback showed that it was too far away from town. The district currently has a purchase agreement for a 23-acre property that is inside the city’s urban growth boundary. This property could house any size school the district would build, Holmes said.
In looking at what kind of school to build, Holmes said that the community does not want to have two schools serving the same grade levels. Currently, the district is examining three plans for schools. One option is a new pre-kindergarten to third grade school. Another option is a pre-kindergarten to fourth grade school. The final option is to build a middle school.
If either one of the two elementary school options were built, Holmes said that the fourth-through-eighth or fifth-through-eighth grade classes would remain on the current kindergarten-eighth grade campus.
Holmes said that the three options have specific costs and building sizes, but the exact grade levels served, particularly in the middle school, are still under consideration. The number of grades housed on the new campus will remain the same, but the specific grade levels themselves have yet to be finalized.
If a middle school were built, Holmes said that an option is to make it either a sixth-to-eighth grade campus or alternatively, make it a seventh-to-ninth grade campus.
Moving ninth graders to a middle school has advantages, Holmes said. Keeping freshmen at a middle school would free up 25 percent of classrooms at La Center High School for future growth.
“There are some real academic advantages I believe to having the ninth grade spend one more year at a middle school setting,” Holmes said.
Not only would it free up space at the high school, but it also helps students transition into high school coursework in a familiar setting, and can lead to increased student success, Holmes said.
There are currently no plans to expand the high school, Holmes said.
In a presentation on the La Center School District website, the costs of each of the three school options are provided. A pre-kindergarten to third grade school would cost a total of $35,505,000. The pre-kindergarten to fourth grade school would cost $44,625,000. A sixth-to-eighth grade middle school would cost $42,610,000.
The proposed bond term would be for 21 years. Holmes said that the school district is still paying off a bond passed in 2002 for a remodeling project at the high school. The remaining five-and-a-half-year costs of that bond will be rolled into the new bond.
The current tax rate of the La Center School District is $4.03 per $1000 of home value. Should the bond pass, a pre-kindergarten to third grade school would raise taxes per $1000 of home value by 20 cents, to $4.23. Taxes would increase by 48 cents to $4.51 if a pre-kindergarten to fourth grade school were built. A new middle school would increase taxes by 42 cents, to $4.45 per $1000 of home value.
Holmes said that the bond amounts are based on “very, very conservative projections” of growth in La Center. He said that as new developments are added, the assessed property value of the district increases as well. This means that the individual rates paid for the bond actually may decrease.
According to Holmes, the proposed bond is based on projected growth estimates of three percent per year. However, over the last four years, the assessed valuation of the district has grown by about 10 percent each year. Holmes said that this means the bond may actually cost individual homeowners less than the projected costs.
For the bond to pass, 40 percent of the voters that voted in the last general election must turn out to vote. Of those, 60 percent plus one must vote in favor of the bond for it to be enacted, Holmes said.
If the bond were to fail, the district would face “uncomfortable solutions,” Holmes said. More portables could be added at the expense of athletic fields. Year-round school, in which 75 percent of the student population attends school each quarter, is also a possibility. Finally, Holmes said that having two sets of classes, one from 6:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and another from 1:30-7:30 p.m., would be a possibility.
“None of those would be as educationally sound or I believe acceptable to our community,” Holmes said.
The community group Citizens for La Center Schools is heavily involved in the effort to make sure the bond passes. According to Melinda Mazna, chair of the group, the organization works to keep citizens informed throughout the bond process, as well as making sure people are registered to vote in the election.
Because of the growth of La Center, the school district has had to find creative solutions to overcrowding, Mazna said, and passing the bond would help relieve some of the pressures of overcrowding.
“We are just in dire need of a larger school,” Mazna said.
Citizens for La Center Schools members attend as many school and city events as possible, such as sports games, community gatherings and city council meetings, to spread information and support about the bond. Mazna said that the group is also spearheading a letter writing campaign to local newspapers, as well as posting video testimonials of La Center alumni in favor of the bond to social media.
“The kids deserve a safer place to be taught in,” Mazna said, noting that portable classrooms are less secure than having students housed in one central building.
Citizens for La Center Schools Treasurer Walter Hansen, Jr. said that La Center has approximately 1.8 students per household, and that based on current development, that ratio means that over 800 students will be added to the district over the next two years.
“Where do you put them?” Hansen said.
Hansen said that the bond is important in light of overcrowding, and the community group has been working hard to spread information.
“It’s exciting, we feel confident,” Hansen said.
He also said that the school district in the past has been a responsible steward of taxpayer money.
“You can trust the district with your money,” Hansen said.
On Tue., Oct. 10, the La Center School Board will hold a community meeting to receive final community input on what kind of school should be put on the bond proposal. The board will meet again on Tue., Oct. 24 to pass an official resolution with the legal language that will appear on the ballot.
Once the ballot measure is filed with the county elections department, Holmes said it becomes Citizens for La Center Schools’ job to spread the word about the bond.
More information about the bond can be found on the La Center School District website at lacenterschools.org/bond-2017-information. For more information about Citizens for La Center Schools, visit 4lcs.webs.com, or contact Melinda Mazna at firstname.lastname@example.org.