Three years after voting down a bond issue to construct a new high school, Piper taxpayers gave the school district the OK to build in a special election officials said was critical to the district’s future.
Nearly 70 percent of voters approved a $35 million bond issue to fund the construction of a new school center for third, fourth and fifth graders on land owned by the district at 131st Street and Leavenworth Road.
The bond issue raises the school property tax rate by 6.29 mills. A taxpayer with a home valued at $250,000 would see an increase of $180 a year — or $15 a month under the changes.
Reached Thursday night, Superintendent Tim Conrad said the district had cleared a “huge hurdle.”
“Today is paramount to the future of this district,” Conrad said. “Now we’re in the position where we are able to build to meet our immediate needs and look toward the future.
“This is huge —it puts us in a position where a growing district needs to be.”
In unofficial results, 1,532 people voted in favor of the bond issue, and 676 were opposed. Twenty-seven percent of registered voters in the Piper school district participated in the election.
The election results were a victory for school officials and community members who doubled down on sounding the alarm about overcrowding issues in Piper – one of the fastest growing school districts in the states – since taxpayers rejected a $67.5 million bond issue to build a new high school in 2015.
Enrollment has shot up by 53 percent, or 830 students, in the past decade. During the 2007-08 school year, the district hosted roughly 1,550 students.
More than 2,300 students now attend Piper Schools.
Conrad told The Star last week that approval of the bond issue was crucial — most of its schools are already operating at capacity.
Limited space has prevented the district from expanding and improving its STEM labs and programs, as well as offering college and career programs that have become a staple at other high schools, he said.
Student/teacher ratios have continued to rise and strategies to make space for students have led to temporary solutions that have prompted safety concerns.
Currently, more than 350 students move between their primary school and a second building or mobile classroom every day. And the third grade is split between two buildings.
“This gave our kids what they needed,” said former board member Darrell Yoder, who had advocated for the bond issue after stepping down from the board this year. “If it didn’t pass what we would of had is more kids in trailers and we would have been back at square one.”
With a 3-5 school center that will accomodate 800 students, district officials say they can keep grade levels at one location.
When the new school opens in the fall of 2020, West Elementary would become a K-2 school, East Elementary would become a sixth grade school and Piper Middle School would be become a seventh and eighth grade school.
“This ensures us that we have a long-term vision for Piper,” Yoder said. “And it ensures success for kids and the community both.”
After the 2015 failure, school officials said they worked hard to make sure that the 2018 bond issue was successful.
The district doubled it’s number of community events, launched social media campaigns to educate voters and conducted surveys about the 2015 election. A grassroots group called “Vote Yes for Piper Kids” also played a role in educating taxpayers about the vote.
Most importantly, Conrad said, officials adjusted the proposed mill levy increase to match what voters told them they could afford.
District officials told The Star earlier this month that they hope that the new 3-5 center could later be renovated into a high school by the time students in ballooning elementary classrooms age up.
Though a renovation would require another bond issue, the district could expand the center without increasing taxes if it successfully pays off debt from an older bond project in 2026, two years earlier than expected.
“We’re not putting together a bond issue on projections,” Conrad said. “We put together this plan based on reality. I think the (election) results proved that people understand the plight of our district and we have to invest in our community and our kids.”