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New schools planned in Park Hill district if bond passes

Park Hill voters will weigh in on a no-tax-increase bond that would help the school district build more facilities.
Park Hill voters will weigh in on a no-tax-increase bond that would help the school district build more facilities. The Associated Press

Students in the Park Hill School District may be sitting in brand-new classrooms come 2019 if voters say yes to a bond issue on April 4.

If it passes with more than 57 percent of the vote, it is an additional $110 million in debt to pay for facilities and doesn’t raise any taxes.

The top funding priorities are to build new elementary and middle schools, and a high school innovation studio. The district also plans to use funds to construct a district warehouse and a support services building.

“As a growing district, we need additional space for our classrooms and for our programs,” Superintendent Jeanette Cowherd said. “We just need the space.”

In the last 30 years, the district has had an annual growth rate of 1 to 2 percent. Last year, the district had 11,533 enrolled students — about half of those in elementary school.

To accommodate all the students, the district had to install mobile classroom units at several schools this year, including at Tiffany Ridge and Chinn elementary schools. Work on an 11th elementary school is the No. 1 priority, and it would likely open in 2019. The district is already in the process of buying land for the school using funds from a previous no-tax increase bond issue.

“If (the bond issue) doesn’t pass, we’ll need to add additional (mobile) units,” Cowherd said. “We don’t want to do that, and our parents have made it clear that’s not their preference.”

A new middle school, also slated for a potential 2019 opening, would help to alleviate the swelling populations at the current three schools. Congress and Plaza middle schools currently have some mobile classrooms. The district expects next year’s sixth-grade class to be even larger than the current one, by about 100 students.

In addition to mobile units, if the bond issue doesn’t pass, it’s possible the district would have to look at additional measures to handle student population growth. Options include redistricting and increasing class sizes.

“I’m cautious about redistricting all the time because that’s difficult for families and for students,” Cowherd said.

The district plans to use leftover money to build a transportation center and do maintenance projects on existing buildings. Currently, the district has a contract with a bus company that has its own facility.

The district has generally fared well with voters, especially with regard to no-tax-increase bond issues such as this one. In both 2011 and 2006, voters said yes. In 2002, voters also approved a levy increase, but failed one in 2014.

The current operating levy is $4.6183, and the total levy, which includes the debt service levy, is $5.5290.

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