School levy on ballot

by: TONY AHERN - Dave Slaght, chairman of the Culver School Board, points out the crumbling mortar on the brick walls of Culver High School, just one of many problems the district hopes to address with a school levy.Culver’s elementary school wings — both over 50 years old — sometimes go cold in the middle of winter, and students and teachers are relegated to wearing coats and gloves in the classroom.

The two elementary wings were made with cinder blocks without rebar, and the high school mortar is crumbling. Officials shudder to think about the catastrophe a seismic event could cause. And speaking of a catastrophe waiting to happen: the high school has four entries, none of which is within view of the office.

Culver School District officials want to rectify these situations, through a $9.75 million 15-year bond, which is before voters in the May 21 election. The rate would be $2.63 per $1,000 in property value. The owner of a $100,000 property would pay $263 per year for the bond.

The bond request was formulated this past winter by a 21-member Facilities Advisory Committee, consisting of business owners, parents, staff, farmers and school officials. The committee ranked each school’s needs into critical (needed now), high priority (needed within three to five years); and low (to do over 10 years). The committee determined nearly $6.9 million in improvements was critical or high priority. Of that figure, only $28,764 at the middle school (built in the 1990s), was factored as not critical or high priority.

Among a long list of improvements, the bond would allow the district to replace the aging elementary school wings with one larger structure; modernize the schoolwide HVAC system, and improve the exterior structure of the high school, and its security, via a remodel; and add classrooms to each existing building to accommodate both current needs and future growth.

The bond would address asbestos removal, Americans With Disabilities Act requirements and various other safety measures.

The bond includes $1.2 million earmarked to replace the outdated, malfunctioning heating system in the high school gymnasium and add dressing room and other remodeling elements. The gym is used for a range of events, but primarily for school physical education classes, which have been limited due to lack of space.

The bond would also cover the remainder of the debt, $1.9 million, from the controversial land purchase made in 2008 — 14.8 acres of farm ground on Iris Lane that is contiguous to the school district and was targeted by a former school administration for future new school construction.

It’s that element of the bond that current school officials worry will keep some people who would otherwise back the bond measure from doing so.

In the fall of 2011, the district floated a $14.75 million bond, which included an athletic complex plus an additional $3.85 million for buildings that this bond has eliminated.

“We’ve cut it to the bare essentials,” said Superintendent Stephanie Garber.

But, the biggest issue people had with the last bond request was the property payment element, not the athletic complex, said Garber.

“I don’t know how to rectify the grudge people have on that property purchase,” said Garber. “For the last four years, we (the administration and staff) have been transparent, but we’re at a loss on how to convince others to move forward for the sake of the students.”

The land purchase was made before Garber became superintendent. This is her fourth year working as both the elementary school principal and superintendent. Overall, this is her 12th year as an administrator in the district.

“Some have suggested letting the property ’go back to the bank,’ but we can’t do that. It’s a Full Faith and Credit Obligation Bond, not a bank loan,” said Garber.

If the bond doesn’t pass, the district officials expect they’d have to use general funds to pay for it. The amount would be $222,000 per year, which would be a hit to school operations that Garber and school board Chairman Dave Slaght find unacceptable.

The farm ground property was purchased at the tail end of the period when property was very high, just before the economic crash. Even if someone wanted to buy it from the district, Garber noted, the value today for the property is a fraction of what it was in 2008.

HVAC to pay for itself

by: TONY AHERN - Maintenance worker Bill Timoshuk checks one of the boilers in the Culver School District. The aging boilers break down on a regular basis. A district bond levy, up for a vote May 21, seeks to install a more reliable and economic heating system, among other improvements.On a much more positive economic note, Bill Timoshuk, the facilities manager for the district, said that a state energy audit determined that the money saved by replacing the old, diesel-fuel boilers would pay for the cost of the new HVAC system within four years.

The old boiler units, which feed old-fashioned radiator heaters in the elementary wings, often break down. Timoshuk says it’s difficult to find people who can work on them and parts to fix them.

Making another economic comparison, Garber pointed out that Culver currently has a permanent (general fund) school rate of $4.88, and no current construction bond. Their total school tax rate is that $4.88 per $1,000.

Meanwhile, most school districts in Central Oregon have a standard school tax and an existing bonded indebtedness. The Madras-based 509-J district, for instance, has a $4.59 permanent rate, but also a $3.28 per $1,000 bond, for a total of $7.87 for a local school tax rate.

Garber wouldn’t indicate if she’s confident the bond measure would or wouldn’t pass, but she said she’s hopeful voters will approve it.

Slaght said he’s had many discussions with people who voted against the 2011 measure who he thinks are re-evaluating their positions.

One topic Slaght often fields is regarding crowded classrooms, and the fact that out-of-district students, via state-legislated open enrollment policies, are coming to Culver in relatively large contingents, for the benefits of attending a smaller, rural school. Some district patrons, though, feel that open enrollment harms the district in the long run.

“I tell those people, ’Don’t you want to have a school that people want to come to?’” said Slaght. “Where every child matters?”

Garber said Culver currently has 42 students who have come from out of the district, while 24 students who live in the Culver district are attending schools outside Culver for various reason, usually because they’re attending school in an area where a parent works.

The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming election is Tuesday, April 30. For information on registering, contact the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office at 541-475-4451.

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