Farwell Voters to Decide Bond Issue on Tuesday

November 4, 2019

The bond issue for Farwell Schools needed improvements is up to the voters Tuesday.
Challenger Matthew Bednorek.
Arthur Township Supervisor Lee Schunk.

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

Tuesday, Farwell School District voters will go to the polls and once again decide if the school district will be able to make some of the much needed upgrades and improvement to the school buildings and grounds.

In an email Tuesday, Superintendent Steven Scoville said, “Very few dispute the need for the items in the November Bond Proposal. From replacing outdated roofs, and 32 year old boilers, to bringing our elementary school playground up to code, the items addressed in this bond proposal are not luxuries. The Farwell Area Schools Board of Education listened to the community and created a compromise proposal that addresses only our greatest needs, while listening to the community’s concerns. FAS BOE has released a draft of their long range plan ahead of schedule.”

He stressed, “Now the students, families, employees and community need the voters of the Farwell Area Schools to show up to the polls and demonstrate their support for our school and community.”
By only 34 votes in early May, Farwell School District voters turned down a 24.5 million proposal to renew their present bond with an additional mill to renovate buildings, replace aging boilers and build six new Elementary classrooms.

At a June 3rd meeting of the board, Superintendent Steven Scoville said, “The feedback from the community has shown that the two biggest reasons for the bond failing were the number of years (25) and the amount of interest (estimated at $17,127,567) that the district would pay over the life of the bond. Another concern was the development of a long range plan for “fixing and maintaining the FAS facilities.”

After the first proposal failed at the polls, at a special meeting Friday, June 7th, the Farwell Board of Education voted 5-1 to pursue a new 2.1 mill bond renewal with a .9 mill increase for 19 years and three months in the November election. If approved by voters the proposal was expected to raise over $20 million to address the district’s needs.

Because of an increased tax base, the renewal of the present bond millage plus an additional .9 mills will raise $20,100,000 over the 19 year time frame.

“The new proposal cuts off five years and nearly $8 million ($7,943,896) in interest from the May proposal,” Scoville added in an interview in June.

He said in July, “The new reduced bond proposal was created as a result of two community forums in May and June. Community input helped to structure a bond that accomplishes many of the school district’s immediate critical needs – in fewer years – with less interest.”

He continued, “The priorities for the bond remain: safety, security, improved educational spaces and system efficiencies. This is a good compromise – it addresses many of our immediate critical needs, but does it in a manner that has a lesser impact on our taxpayers.”

The needs of the district include: comprehensive Elementary School upgrades including playground equipment and fencing, a parking/parking entrance, demolishing the 1949 (Teachout) wing and, and building six new classrooms; replacing 18 aging boilers that constantly need expensive repairs with four new ones; mechanical and control upgrades to the buildings; roof replacement in the Elementary, Middle and High Schools; district-wide safety and security upgrades; resurfacing the HS gym floor; and replacing MS flooring.

Other needs are an improved JPAC drop off and pick up; district wide public address system upgrades; replacing windows and doors; exterior LED lighting; district-wide clock upgrades and additions; bus garage improvements; Timberland improvements; sports complex improvements and repair and resurfacing of the track, a new ticket booth, fence, well pressure tank and a new electrical shed.

The original plan to remodel the Elementary building’s East Wing, built in 1954, is not included in the new bond issue, although Scoville said at an earlier meeting, “It would have to be addressed in the Board’s Long Range Plan.”

Savings generated from the renovations, guaranteed by Johnson Controls, will be the beginning of a fund for maintenance and future improvements.
“Needs not addressed by the bond will be addressed through multiple methods,” Scoville continued. “Several of the needed improvements at the Kerwin L. Paesens Athletic Complex will be accomplished by the Sports Boosters. Other needs not address by the current bond proposal will be targeted for a future sinking fund proposal.”

Objections to the current bond issue have revolved around using a “Sinking Fund” instead of a bond issue, but Scoville said a sinking fund will not address the critical needs of the school now.

In a letter to the Editor School Board President Joe Maxey said, “Although a sinking fund option was explored extensively, it simply cannot generate enough revenue to address the district’s immediate, most critical needs.  No matter how you try to do the math on this, it just doesn’t add up!  And, if you consider the long-term costs and impacts, it actually costs us all more.”

Scoville said, “A key goal of our facilities and infrastructure plan will be to transition from a bond approach to a Sinking Fund approach in the future. Although sinking funds are not a solution to address our immediate needs, they do remain a good tool to address future facilities needs in an interest free manner. A key factor in using a sinking fund is to start the fund before it is needed.”

BOE President Maxey added, “As the President of the Farwell Area Schools Board of Education, I worked with community members, my board colleagues and the district administration for several weeks to develop a new bond proposal for voters to consider. I am proud to say this proposal now before the voters prioritizes taxpayer dollars for the most critical school needs and limits long-term indebtedness to reduce the financial burden on residents.”

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