Jan 26, 2021 3:11 AM

Proposal for turning Benton, Lafayette into middle schools heads to April ballot

Posted Jan 26, 2021 3:11 AM
The St. Joseph School District board of education met Monday and approved a $107 million bond issue that goes before voters in April. The bond would mean the construction of a new high school in St. Joseph. Photo by Tommy Rezac.
The St. Joseph School District board of education met Monday and approved a $107 million bond issue that goes before voters in April. The bond would mean the construction of a new high school in St. Joseph. Photo by Tommy Rezac.

By TOMMY REZAC

St. Joseph Post

The St. Joseph School District Board voted 7-0 Monday night to place a $107 million bond issue before voters on the April 6 ballot.

The proposal would convert Benton & Lafayette High School into middle schools, and keep St. Joseph Central intact.

This would bring the construction of a new high school building, meaning the district would operate two total high schools. A new high school building would take about two years for completion.

The Lafayette and Benton buildings would be renovated, including the upgrade and installation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in the Central, Lafayette and Benton buildings.

The bond would also include upgrades to athletic facilities and the Hillyard Technical Center, as well as the completion of repairs and improvements to existing facilities in the District.

"If you're going to build a new school, you want to have comparable facilities in your existing school," said St. Joseph superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl. "It allows for some of those facilities to be updated and upgraded as well."

Mike Moore, a community member of the district’s Facilities Planning Committee, says this proposal will help students within the district have more equal opportunities.

"We talk about more equal opportunities from school-to-school and we talk about getting the sixth graders out of the elementary schools and into the middle schools," Moore said. "Which, I think is a fantastic idea."

St. Joseph currently has four middle schools. Two of them are grades 6-8 and two are grades 7-8. Van Zyl says this proposal would help the district become more uniform, and also help it take a step forward.

"We'd be able to become a district that's K-5 in elementary, 6-8 in middle school and 9-12 in high school," Van Zyl said. "I also think it's a chance to take a step forward. I think we've been treading water for a long time or maybe taking a step backward when others have been moving forward. This is an opportunity for the community to take a look at how do they really feel about their education."

This proposal would, however, also mean a 29-cent increase in the property tax levy. Taxpayers who own a $150,000 home market value in St. Joseph would pay between $80-85 per year in additional county taxes.

Moore contends, however, that the construction of a new high school and renovation of the District's current buildings would benefit the city long-term.

"It checks the box of not only creating some curb appeal, but also demonstrates that commitment that would allow businesses to recruit to St. Joe in the future," Moore said. "Even more than that, I think it's good for kids."

We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the board's decision Monday? Send an email to [email protected]