District lays out future construction needs

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

DUBOIS — The Northeast Dubois School Board began discussing future construction projects for the school corporation’s four school buildings at its meeting Tuesday night.

During a presentation on the corporation’s property tax referendum and financial situation, Superintendent Bill Hochgesang reviewed recommendations from the 2015 general fund feasibility study by Brookston-based Administrator Assistance.

The study’s first recommendation was to put a general fund referendum on the ballot, which the corporation did in the fall of 2016. Voters approved the referendum, which raised property taxes to boost the corporation’s general fund — which covers operating expenses — by $500,000 annually for seven years. The corporation is on the second year of the seven-year referendum.

The study also called for facilities upgrades and possible restructuring in 2020 when some of the corporation’s debt from previous projects falls off. The debt service fund and possible projects are funded separately from the general fund and the referendum.

Hochgesang said he’s bringing the construction needs to the board now rather than waiting until 2019 because big decisions will need to be made for the corporation’s future, and they will require planning. With the referendum campaign in the past, it’s time to look toward the corporation’s long-term future.

“The real recommendations [from the study] are coming forward now,” Hochgesang said.

Looking ahead to 2020, Hochgesang brought up the study’s recommendations for when the referendum ends. The first option in the study suggested condensing Dubois and Celestine elementaries into one elementary school housing kindergarten though second grade. Dubois Middle School would then house third through sixth grades, and Northeast Dubois High School would become a junior-senior high school with seventh through 12th grades. That option also included several upgrades to the high school.

The second option suggested a classroom addition to Dubois Elementary to combine the two elementary schools. That proposal did not change the grade configuration. The third option was to keep the two elementary schools and current grade configuration, but update Celestine Elementary.

The complete feasibility study and Hochgesang’s presentation are available on the corporation’s website.

The study suggested 2020 as the year to begin new projects because some of the corporation’s debt from previous projects will be paid off. To keep a stable property tax rate, the school will need to borrow again, up to $3.2 million, according to Hochgesang’s presentation. Otherwise, the property tax rate would dip, then be raised again when the corporation begins a project. Hochgesang said voters prefer their tax rates to remain stable.

To prepare for the project, Hochgesang suggested the corporation hire an architectural firm to assess the needs of the schools and come up with options for the board. The board will further discuss that recommendation at its September meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at the corporation office, 5370 E. Main St., Dubois.

“I think this is very important,” Hochgesang said. “It’s big, and it means a lot to a lot of people.”

In his presentation, Hochgesang also talked about the corporation’s financial future. According to enrollment numbers, the corporation can expect a continued decline in enrollment — and, therefore, a decline in revenue — for the next eight to 12 years, he said. That means the corporation will need to continue to make cuts in preparation for the end of the property tax referendum. If necessary, the corporation could put another referendum on the ballot, but neither Hochgesang or the board wants to go that route.

“I think they (the public) are counting on us to eliminate that referendum at the end of seven years,” Hochgesang said.

Board members agreed. Several board members said they heard from members of the public willing to support a referendum once, but not twice.

In the last two years, Hochgesang said, the corporation has made $223,926 in cuts. The corporation also increased its end-of-year balance in the general fund, which covers operating expenses, from $188,600 in 2016 to $679,084 in 2017 thanks to the referendum. That puts the ending balance last year close to the suggested 11 percent of the total general fund budget.




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