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Webster Groves School Board Looks To Balance Building Needs With Funds

Series of meetings for public comment expected in early fall

"What we're looking at is taking a comprehensive look at our district, top to bottom." – Superintendent John Simpson, Webster Groves School District
July 06, 2018
Like many property owners, the Webster Groves School District is finding itself with lots of building needs but only so much money.

In a lengthy Saturday morning workshop on June 30, the board reviewed a list of $50 million in needs and planned for a series of community meetings in early fall to get public comment. In January, the board plans to review a report and make recommendations on where it should spend its money and where it should hold off.

"What we're looking at is taking a comprehensive look at our district, top to bottom, side to side," Superintendent John Simpson said. "There are going to be multiple opportunities for the community to be involved."

"Everything's on the table," said District Chief Financial/Operations Officer Bruce Ellerman. "Nothing's off limits for us to look it."

In the short run, repairs may be less expensive, Ellerman said. But in the long term, replacement may be the better choice.

A report the board reviewed at the June 30 meeting said the board needs to look at accessibility needs, asbestos, safety and security, the condition of facilities, needs of older buildings, enrollment projections and needs for programs.

The district may be able to do major work on some projects and repairs on others things.

A combination of good fortune and good management has enabled the board to issue $12.9 million in bonds without raising taxes, Ellerman and Simpson said. Two years ago, it had none of that capacity.

One factor that helped increase that capacity was the transfer of about $400,000 in funds left over from the 2010 bond issue to the debt service fund. Another was the transfer to the debt service fund of about $1.3 million the district received from the state in the 2016-17 school year after it stopped receiving tuition for full-day kindergarten.

The district's capacity to issue "no tax increase" bonds is growing by $2.1 million a year. In the next 10 years, it will have around $30 million in capacity, Ellerman said.

The school board would also have to submit a measure to the public to approve a no-tax-increase bond issue. It could also ask for an additional amount for a bond issue requiring a tax increase.

The district's building advisory committee will play a major role in evaluating and prioritizing the building needs, Ellerman said. That committee includes a variety of local experts in facilities maintenance, including architects, engineers and building planners.

A major issue is enrollment increases. Edgar Road School will have four modular units after it finishes a project this summer to build two more units. Clark and Avery schools have two units. People would prefer to see them replaced by permanent units, Ellerman said.

District Survey

In another matter, board members reviewed a recent survey, conducted online and by hard copy, meant to determine what the public thinks of the district. Most of the 709 people who completed the survey have or have had children in district schools.

A total of 77.2 percent of those responding rated it four or five on a scale of one to five. Last year, 84 percent chose four or five.

A total of 73 percent said they thought the district spent its tax dollars very or somewhat efficiently.

In the survey, 43.2 percent said they followed the district very closely and 50.2 percent closely. A total of 48.5 percent responded that the district kept them very informed about curriculum and 21.1 percent somewhat informed.

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