Apr 06, 2021 12:00 PM

Voters to decide fate of $107M St. Joseph school bond issue today

Posted Apr 06, 2021 12:00 PM
American Family Insurance regional headquarters/Photo by Brent Martin
American Family Insurance regional headquarters/Photo by Brent Martin

By BRENT MARTIN

St. Joseph Post

St. Joseph school district voters decide today the fate of a $107 million bond issue that would drastically change the make-up of the school district.

St. Joseph School Superintendent Doug Van Zyl says the money will allow the district to buy the American Family Insurance building and convert it into a new high school as well as make upgrades to other buildings. Van Zyl says passage would allow the district to redirect money from buildings to academics.

“How do we continue to attract and retain high quality teachers?” Van Zyl asks while a guest on the KFEQ Hotline. “Because I’ll never tell you that the building makes the difference in education. It’s the quality of the person that you can put in front of our students on a daily basis.”

This is a big decision for voters.

If approved, the American Family building would become the second high school to go along with Central High School. Benton High School and Lafayette High School would be converted into middle schools. Other schools would undergo upgrades, such as air conditioning which Van Zyl says makes for a better environment for teachers.

“It’s not always about pay,” Van Zyl says. “It’s also about how do I feel going into my school? Do I feel like it’s 90 degrees in here or do I feel like it’s a comfortable temperature for me to be able to work in? Those may be small nuances, but I think that that also sends a message to our staff and our students on how those things are done; if we’re trying to make decisions that we believe are going to benefit them.”

An opposition group has emerged.

We the People 3 Schools opposes the bond issue and, as the name suggests, supports the three high school model.

A member of the group, Chris Prudden, says the school board isn’t listening to the people.

“But what you’re not understanding is that’s not what the community wants. That’s what you board members want,” Prudden says during his visit on the KFEQ Hotline.

Prudden criticizes the school board for past actions.

“They haven’t spent the money properly in the past,” Prudden claims. “These boundary lines are not what the people want, they aren’t dividing it up and now they’re changing it to make it even worse if they have the two-school thing. The schools are next to each other. The town is divided.”

The school board settled on the two high school model. Then, American Family became a possibility.

Van Zyl says converting the American Family campus into a high school makes a lot of sense.

“There is no perfect plan, but I do think to have that structure there and have a group like American Family that is willing to have that conversation with us I think is kind of a blessing when we were struggling to try to find places that could probably hold what we’re looking to do,” Van Zyl says.

Even the contractor chosen by the school board to convert the American Family campus into a high school comes under criticism by We the People.

Prudden says the board should not have hired McCown Gordon of Kansas City to consult on the conversion.

“If you really want to save money on these schools, we could probably start by hiring local contractors and not big, giant companies out of Kansas City,” according to Prudden. “There’s plenty of big contracting companies that are way cheaper and probably just as efficient in our local area. Once again, you’re not supporting our community and that’s what the community sees.”

A school board member says no local contractors showed interest.

It will take more than a simple majority for the bond issue to pass. The issue must receive a 57.1% vote. If voters approve the bond issue, property taxes will increase by $4.63 a month or $55.56 a year on every $100,000 of assessed valuation.