By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Ste. Genevieve R-II administrators and school board members have been quick to note that accessibility and safety are two key components in the no-tax increase $20 million bond issue the R-II district will put on the April 5, 2022 ballot.
“ADA accessibility came out as a top priority pretty quick,” Superintendent Dr. Julie Flieg told the board during the Dec. 21 meeting, “especially when you look at our middle school, a very old building.” She discussed how students who use wheelchairs or who have mobility issues are unable to use the steps to access the top floor. “They never see the top floor of that building,” she said.
The building opened in 1936 as the new Ste. Genevieve High School. It later became the junior high and then the middle school.
The district currently manages as best as it can, moving teachers around to lower-level rooms these students can access, when needed. That is not a long-term solution, though.
“Those students deserve to have access to that top floor just like everyone else,” Flieg said.
The bond issue would add elevators at the middle school and would redo the Ste. Genevieve Elementary entrance, which currently has steps.
Flieg pointed out that to enter the elementary building, families or visitors who are unable to use steps call ahead to make arrangements to be met and taken around to an alternative entrance.
That is obviously not satisfactory for the long term, either. The bond issue would allow mobility-challenged students, families and visitors to enter just like their peers.
DISTRICT IS ABLE TO SWING $20 MILLION
The district finds itself in a healthy financial situation. Courtney Wegeman of L.J. Hart & Associates, the firm that has handled recent bond issues for the district, assured Flieg that there was plenty of wiggle room. In fact, the bond issue would be less than half of what the district would be able to finance.
The district has a $55,829,710 bonding capacity. That includes an overall bonding capacity of $62,382,313, minus its current debt service of $7,980,000, with a project balance in the debt service account of $1,427,397.
The firm utilized a local assumed assessed valuation of $415,882,088, which doesn’t take into account LafargeHolcim coming onto the tax books, as the company is currently protesting its taxes.
“This $20 million bond issue would not max out our bonding capacity,” Flieg said. “We would still have a very large balance. And again, that’s without adding Holcim into our assessed valuation because of that protest.”
Bova pointed out that with a no-tax increase $20 million bond, the district would be utilizing “under half our bonding capacity,” with more than $35 million still available for bonding.
The last bond was issued in 2014.
“That’s another reason our bonding capacity is high,” Flieg said. “We have not done one for quite some time. We had intentions of running one last year in ‘21, but COVID shut the committee work down on the plans and backed up our timeline.”
Also, the board’s decision to do advanced refunding on the $4.2 million 2014 bond issue and the $2.6 million 2009 bond issue at a special November 2017 board meeting gave the district extra flexibility.
In October 2020, the board refinanced $5,380,000 General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series 2017, for a significantly lower interest rate, saving taxpayers almost $592,900 of future interest expense. This $592,900, in addition to the approximate savings of $1,577,368 from previous refundings, means that the District has saved approximately $2,170,268 of interest expense since 2015.