District Superintendent Dena McCullough, left, and District Business Manager Maureen Hester.
From the 5.13.08 issue
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
The McKinleyville Union School District is hoping that the voters will pass a general obligation bond on June 3 to pay for $14 million in improvements to its three schools. If the measure is approved by at least 55 percent of voters, the district would pursue numerous projects including construction of a new gym, replacement of roofs and plumbing, higher fences, renovation of science classrooms and upgrading school fields, among other things.
Last week the McKinleyville Press asked some questions about the specifics of this proposal to District Superintendent Dena McCullough and District Business Manager Maureen Hester.
Q. You’re proposing to build a gym at McKinleyville Middle School. Isn’t there already a gym in that building? What’s wrong with it?
McCullough: What we have is a multi-purpose room, not a gymnasium, although we do play basketball in it. The room is used for serving lunches. When it’s raining outside and the students are eating lunches in the room, or if a special event is taking place, there is no place to do our P.E. program. Because the students have rotating lunch hours, P.E. takes place during those hours.
But the room isn’t quite big enough even for our basketball games. There’s no room for parents to be seated. We don’t have a place for student performances. We have to rent someplace in Arcata to do our annual play.
Q. The middle school is within walking distance of MCSD’s Activity Center? Why not make an agreement with MCSD and use that as a gym?
McCullough: We do have an agreement to use their facilities for after-school activities. During the school day, the periods are 45-50 minutes long. To get to the Activity Center it would require a walk of five minutes or so each way, so we haven’t had middle-of-the-day activities there.
Q. Are the schools’ roofs currently leaking, and if so, why have they not been repaired?
Hester: We do repair our roofs every year. They are getting to the point where repairs won’t help any more and they need replacement. We don’t want to wait until our roofs are leaking into our classrooms.
Q. What cost savings would result from increased energy efficiency? What would you do with the money you would save?
Hester: Our energy has gone up about 25%. Our heating is going up about 25%. That takes money out of the General Fund and it takes material and supplies away from our students. This would free up some money so that we could support the programs that the students have.
When our architect draws up the plans, we’ll be able to apply for some rebates.
Q. What is wrong with the schools’ plumbing?
McCullough: The schools’ plumbing is very old. The schools were built in the 1950s.
Q. Just because a system is old, doesn’t mean that it is falling apart…
Hester: There are drainage problems at Morris Elementary so that it backs up. The slopes of the main pipe system aren’t going in the right direction.
McCullough: The well and pump at Dow’s Prairie School have inadequate flow. It’s a pressure issue. Our Facilities Report recommends reviewing all the well and pump capacities and replacing as necessary.
Q. Why do you need higher fences around the schools?
McCullough: The higher fences have to do with security. We want to make sure that intruders can’t walk onto the school grounds or hop the fence without going through the office. Several times a year, people come on campus who shouldn’t be there. Even parents sometimes have restraining orders against them. We’ve had situations where parents who don’t have custody have come into the lunch room and tried to eat lunch with their child.
Hester: At Dow’s Prairie, the fences are only that high. Sometimes balls go over the fence into an unmarked area, with no supervision and the kids think it’s OK to jump the fence and get the balls.
Q. Don’t the schools already have public address systems? I thought that Morris School, at least, had one.
McCullough: Morris School has a portable P.A. system for assemblies. That’s not a public address system.
It’s a safety issue. We have no way to do public announcements or emergency calls to the entire school. There are telephones in all the classrooms, but if we had a lockdown drill, or a real lockdown, there would be no way to communicate with the teachers in without calling each individual classroom or going into each classroom physically.
Q. You plan to spend money on increased access to the internet. Specifically, what do you mean by that?
McCullough: The Facilities Report recommends having additional ports for computers to plug into to access the internet.
Hester: This would allow more computers to be hooked up to the internet. Right now only three or four students at a time can work on the computers.
Q. Why do the science classrooms require renovation?
McCullough: We don’t have science labs set up for every class that we need. We have science tables in there, but no access to gas lines for labs. It’s not a standard science middle school lab.
Hester: We need sinks in the lab tables, and an eyewash system.
Q. Do kids at the middle school level work with chemicals in the classroom?
McCullough: We would if we had adequate facilities. They can dissect animals, but nothing more sophisticated.
Q. What are the safety issues with the bathrooms?
McCullough: There are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues. We need to bring the exits and entrances up to code for our handicapped students, particularly at the middle school where one set of bathrooms wasn’t included in our last modernization. They also need to meet fire codes.
Q. Your fields look fine. What’s wrong with them?
McCullough: We do have very nice fields. But at Dow’s Prairie we have no irrigation in the fields whatsoever. They also need grading. They don’t look bad when you drive by them, but they’re pretty rough and we’ve had complaints from parents.
Hester: Most middle schools have a track but we don’t.
Q. What is wrong with the portable buildings?
McCullough: Aside from the floor rotting? You can step through one of them. The ramps are rotten on most of our portables.
Q. How much is this going to cost the average homeowner?
McCullough: $29.90 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Hester: If you bought your home thirty years ago for $100,000, you’re only going to be paying $30 per year.
Q. How long will the tax be collected? How long will it take to pay off the bonds?
McCullough: Forty years.
Hester: But if our assessed value in McKinleyville increases, we can refinance the bonds to pay them off in a shorter period of time.
Q. What is the interest rate on the bonds?
McCullough: We don’t know yet. It will be the current market value. That’s what it states on the ballot measure.
Hester: Our rating as a school district is very high because we don’t have any outstanding debt. So when people who want to buy our bonds look at our history, they can see that we are very secure and that might get us a lower rate.
Q. Some of the costs seem quite high for what you’re getting. Have you thought about establishing a committee of local people who are in the building trades, to get a second guess on some of these estimates?
McCullough: Our architect is involved with that. He does a lot of local work. I don’t have any problem with having a group look at that. Some of the costs seem high, but some of them seem low.
We may end up not doing some of these projects because they’re too high for this area. We’re going to be setting priorities, based upon the Facilities Study, and then we’ll look at the costs, with our architect.
Q. So right now, you don’t really have a schedule of proposed improvements with costs on them?
Hester: We’re going by our Facility Study. That’s our guide on what is needed for the district. Then we’ll sit down with our committee and the architect and decide on those items – if the bond passes.
McCullough: We don’t want to do that ahead of time because we pay our architect on an hourly rate. We don’t want him spending his time drawing up plans for things we can’t fund.
Q. A lot of consultants seem to be involved with this project. What were their roles and how much money are they getting for their involvement?
McCullough: KNN does the bond financing. They’ll actually sell the bond for us if it passes. They will be getting around $40,000 for each sale and we’re planning on selling bonds twice.
Jones Hall is our bond counsel. They advise us on legal issues, communicate with the Elections Dept., tax rate statements, and they have the liability as far as the selling of the bonds. They will be getting about $45,000.
Total Schools Solutions is the company that did the Facilities Assessment. That was paid for last year through our facility funds. It won’t be financed through the bond.
Gadbe Research evaluated the community to see if the bond would be acceptable. They have already been paid, and that was about $14,000.
The state also takes some money to review our plans. But it’s not a significant amount.
Our architect will get somewhere between 11% and 14% of the project cost. We’re using Siskiyou Design from Yreka.
Q. Why are you trying to pass a bond during a recession period?
Hester: We’re not sure if any time is the best time. The schools are going to need to be repaired whether there’s a recession or not. We want to be proactive and not wait for those leaking roofs.
Q. Are you going to add some money to the project by selling your surplus Washington Road property? (Note: The MUSD owns a large undeveloped parcel near the corner of Washington and School roads.)
Hester: We’re going to wait. There are laws associated with a public entity selling property. We have to give first rights to another public entity where we would get only 25% of the market value. We’re more interested in leasing the property.
Q. You’ve had to make severe budget cuts to the school programs and lay off teachers. Why can’t you use some of this money to fund the programs, instead of building new facilities?
McCullough: This money can’t be used for staffing. No salaries can be used with facility money. That’s state law. People need to realize that there are still students and teachers in these classrooms that need to be repaired.