Prescott residents will weigh in on school buidling projects in survey
The Prescott School District Annual Meeting Wednesday evening set the tone for the months to come for school district residents.
Yes, the district all got its thorough financial report from Finance Coordinator Renee Peterson. The meeting was short on residents – only a handful signed in – and most people in attendance were school staff. The district tax levy for the coming year was ratified, as is the main duty of the meeting. School board salaries were held at the 2019-20 level of $2,000 annually upon the motion of resident Jim Reichert.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Spicuzza used the annual meeting to give a bigger picture of things going on now and what’s to come in the near future at the district.
Attendance in the Performing Arts Center may have been sparse but the meeting was simulcast live on the district’s YouTube Channel as meetings have been since the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. Board members distanced themselves across the stage, and the audience members certainly had plenty of room between each other.
Spicuzza hit on the big news of last week in the All Prescott School District households will receive a survey inthe mail gauging support for one of two “Pathways,” described above. This graphic was on display Wednesday at the school district Annual Meeting.
“COVID has definitely captivated our immediate attention, both globally and locally,” he said. “I want to let the community know that we continue to alter our educational models and practices to mitigate the virus as best we can.
“Breaking news as of Monday, Sept. 14, we did move our high school to a hybrid model, where students are virtually working at home on Monday,” said Spicuzza. The students are then split into two groups, and half learn in-person and half virtual the remainder of the week, under the model.
“That cuts the number of students that are on site at any one time by 50 percent but 100 percent of the students are participating in real time with their teachers,” Spicuzza said, noting the investment in technology and innovation of staff that makes it possible.
Prior to the annual meeting, the decision was made to move the middle school also to virtual learning as of Monday, Sept. 21.
“We’re using the next two days to help transition the students to make sure they understand,” Spicuzza said. “I want to thank my two secondary principals and the technology group and our nursing staff for navigating these waters incredibly well and also for the communication that’s gone out.”
“Let me be clear, as we continue to work with Pierce County Public Health, the safety of our staff and our students are at the highest level of concern, but as we move and transition, I just want to reaffirm that the PSD is not shirking its responsibility to provide high quality education for our students,” Spicuzza said.
He transitioned to talk about facility proposals that district residents will be surveyed on in October.
“We understand that COVID is the threeton elephant that continues to be in this room and sometimes on our back. But like just like COVID, time marches on and it doesn’t stop for anyone,” he said. “We are continuing to do our work to audit our facilities with our facility plan that examines the functional equipment and structures that go beyond generations and generational obligations.”
Late last summer, SDS Architects was contracted by the district to do a facility study. Some key findings came out of that work. Mainly, there are problems with the district buildings – with the exception of the new high school – having adequately secure entrances, where visitors can be buzzed through a locked door directly into the school office.
In addition, space within buildings was analyzed for how it fits educational programs, and mechanical systems were studied.
The results of that study and concepts that have emerged from it were unveiled at the meeting. District residents will have the opportunity to let the district know how they feel. Each residence will be mailed a survey, and the outcomes will frame how the facility proposals are carried out. There likely will be a referendum question for carrying out facility projects in 2021.
District representatives stressed that presentations by SDS at the meeting were just concepts to be able to get views from taxpayers. Presenting from SDS were Principal Architect Dale Poynter and Architect Chelsea Vorce, who appeared behind the school board on the “big screen” at the meeting.
Building entrance security and bus dropoffs were a primary concern found at district buildings.
SDS unveiled two plans, one of which makes improvements and keeps four district buildings operational, the second of which combines grades and consolidates into three buildings, with the current middle school possibly becoming district offices.
During the meeting, Spicuzza invited community members watching virtually to stop in if they’d like and look at printouts of the two concepts. (See related graphic).
After about 20 minutes touching on those facility plans, the district moved on to a representative of its financing firm, Baird. The presentation by Baird was centered around the district debt picture and the fact that the district could save nearly $700,000 by refinancing its debt. Its debt through three bond issues in 2012, 2014 and 2015 is at an interest rate of 3.5 percent, and the board will received a proposal at its meeting this week to refinance that debt at an interest rate of 1.96 percent.
“The savings annually would be directly to the taxpayers,” said Spicuzza. “I think it’s something that’s a wise investment for us to at least to consider.”
Baird pointed out that the district tax rate has dipped the last couple years. It was $12.38 per $1,000 of property valuation in 2017-18 and $10.75 last year.
Once the district gets survey results on the SDS Pathways back from district residents, it can determine how to proceed, and if the matter will go to referendum.
“The school board’s been working with SDS for over 18 months. They’ve had multiple work sessions. They’ve evaluated and rank-ordered their values and then they also have looked at six different conceptual designs and narrowed it down to those two pathways,” said Spicuzza. “During the month of October, School Perceptions survey company is partnering with the district and will be sending out to 100 percent of all households to canvass for feedback from our community in a five to seven-minute survey.”
Households will receive information on the Pathways and rationale.
“We want to make sure that before we move forward in any kind of discussion for any voter-approved funding that the community first is educated about the decisions and the information that the board has been processing for 18 months,” Spicuzza said. “We want to make sure that people understand that time continues to march on and there are some facility needs that cannot be ignored.”
Survey information will be presented to the board by School Perceptions in November.
“And then the board will use that data to finalize any voter-approved funding question that they might choose to go forward, if it’s required to complete the projects,” said Spicuzza.
And finally…the budget hearing That brought Peterson to the podium for her presentation of the 2020-21 school year budget.
The total district budget of all funds for the present school year is $21,170,344, up 1.24 percent from last year. The tax levy – the amount taxpayers contribute through their property tax bill, was set at $9,635,075, up 4.28 percent from last year’ levy of $9,239,889. The good news is that the property tax rate to support the levy is expected to the $10.74 per $1,000 of property valuation, the same as last year.
The levy was promptly approved without question or comment, and the meeting was wrapped up in about 1:45.