The buzz about the Millard Public Schools' proposed bond issue has centered on installing front-door buzzers, interior door locks and new walls to make classrooms more secure.
There's much more for Millard residents to consider when they go to the polls Tuesday.
Security spending accounts for about 38 percent of the spending in the $79.9 million bond issue.
However, about 41 percent would pay to replace what district officials say are deteriorating and failing infrastructure, including mechanical, electrical and lighting systems, roofing, paving and general maintenance.
About 13 percent would go to add classrooms to Rowher, Upchurch and Black Elk Elementary Schools in the district's fast-growing southwestern reaches, and industrial tech space to Millard West and South High Schools.
Nearly 7 percent would go to rehabilitate Bryan Elementary School, built in 1963 and showing its age, and to the restoration of the Ron Witt Support Services Center.
Millard school board President Mike Pate said district officials have made it clear that the bond issue addresses a variety of needs, not just security, though that issue drew the most attention.
The cry for better security came from the public, he said.
“They're demanding that we enhance the security in these buildings,” he said.
The district's South High School was the site of a fatal shooting two years ago.
Public appeals grew after last December's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. That led the board to include security upgrades not included in the district's failed 2011 bond issue, Pate said. The school board expanded the list of schools receiving interior classroom walls and doors from six to 14.
The new walls and doors would serve a dual purpose, cutting down on classroom noise and distractions and allowing teachers to lock classrooms during emergencies, officials say.
The bond issue would secure the entrances to all schools with video monitors and a “buzz in” system. It would also provide for electronic monitoring of other doors.
Classroom doors will have security locks. School personnel will be able to remotely monitor whether a door is open and observe visitors with a video camera.
Pate said that when people ask what's in the bond issue, he tells them it focuses primarily on keeping the district's facilities in good condition as well as capital projects too expensive to pay for with money in the district's general fund.
“We're not doing anything to hide anything from the public,” he said.
Pate said the campaign committee advocating for passage — Millard Families for Safe Schools — operates independently of the school district. He said campaigns naturally focus on the issues that most concern people.
Todd Clarke, the committee chairman, said his group has been even-handed advocating the bond issue.
The group, on its website, stressed safety, stewardship of the district's facilities and growth.
“I think it's been fair, but definitely we've emphasized the safety,” he said.
Clarke said he attended Holling Heights Elementary School, one of the schools with an open interior. Part of the reason Millard built the schools that way was that they were cheaper, and the district was growing rapidly, he said.
Dealing with growth is important, too, he said.
“There's a myth that Millard isn't growing,” he said.
The district has added 2,200 kids since voters approved the last bond issue in 2005.
The Millard North project, costing nearly $11.6 million, would reduce two building entrances to a single secure entrance, renovate administrative space and add a lecture hall. It would also address a security situation created by an overcrowded corridor.
A first-floor corridor clogs up when 2,400 students surge into the hallways and head to their next classroom.
Rather than fight the mess, dozens of students stream out the front doors, walk about a hundred feet across the courtyard, and duck back into the building at another set of outer doors, holding them open for each other.
This bypass ritual has become, according to Millard Public Schools spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman, “part of the culture” at Millard North.
School officials feel they can no longer tolerate the bypass as educators and parents view their campuses through eyes sharpened by tragedies like Sandy Hook and the deadly shooting at Millard South. The 2011 shooting at South killed one administrator and injured another.
“We would be able to keep them inside,” said Chad Zimmerman, the high school's activities director.
The new lecture hall would allow teachers to administer tests for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate on campus, rather than renting rooms off campus, he said. Both Millard West and South High Schools have lecture halls, he said.
Millard Superintendent Keith Lutz said that about 90 percent of the Millard North project costs can be attributed to security concerns.
District officials say that failure to pass the bond issue would necessitate the busing of students from cramped schools in the western part of the district to eastern schools with room. Attendance area boundaries would have to be realigned, they say.
Millard officials hope election night will be happier than 18 months ago.
In November 2011, voters solidly turned down a proposed $140.8 million bond issue in the district's first-ever mail-in election. Lutz vowed to go “back to the drawing board.”
The soul searching that followed led the school board to the current package.
“We did what they asked us to do: Go back and trim the fat,” Pate said.
He's optimistic about passage this time.
Brenda Vosik, director the Millard Parent Society, whose members are not shy about criticizing district affairs, is encouraging residents to back it.
That wasn't the case in 2011, when then-director Stephanie Morgan recommended against approval on the grounds that that bond issue was too big, especially in a struggling economy.
The economy is a little better now, Vosik said. The downsizing, and removal of proposed artificial turf fields at North and West High Schools, makes it more palatable, she said.
“It addresses the needs of the district, not the wants,” she said.
No organized opposition has emerged. In 2011, a persistent district critic Paul Meyer led a loosely organized opposition. He was subsequently elected to the board and joined the unanimous vote to put the leaner proposal on the ballot.
Meyer said Thursday that he believes the bond issue could be cut back further, but there's not enough waste to launch a full-blown campaign to defeat it.
As a result, the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, of which he's a member, did not get involved, he said.
Meyer said he toured Neihardt Elementary School, one targeted for renovation to enclose classrooms.
“There's not even a wall separating the kids who are studying, or trying to study, while other kids are going back and forth,” he said.
District officials estimate that the tax impact to property owners will be at most $35 for every $100,000 of property valuation.
That amount is higher than the impact officials forecast for the much larger 2011 bond issue, which was estimated $15 per $100,000 of valuation.
As a result, some residents have wondered how the smaller bond issue could cost taxpayers more.
Lutz said Wednesday that the effects were calculated differently. The 2011 estimate was an average annual impact, while the $35 is a “worst-case” estimate based on a single year, 2016, when the hit to taxpayers spikes, he said.
Lutz said that recent favorable current market conditions suggest that the worst-case impact may be reduced to $30 per $100,000 of valuation.
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