By Bridgett Hernandez
The Whitko Community School Corp. board of trustees met for a work session Feb. 26 to review funding options for consolidating the middle and high schools into a 7-12 grade campus.
In January, the board voted to close Whitko Middle School in Larwill and consolidate grades 7-12 at the current site of Whitko High School in South Whitley due to declining enrollment and budgetary constraints.
However, school board members say the ultimate goal is a centralized campus in Larwill. According to school board president Jorell Tucker, the board’s decision to temporarily house students at the South Whitley campus was a matter of securing funding for updating the Larwill campus.
In the meantime, middle school students will be housed in modular classrooms at the South Whitley campus starting the 2018-2019 school year.
Funding options, including timelines, was the topic of the board’s work session.
Phase one, or consolidating grades 7-12 at the South Whitley campus, is estimated to cost just under $388,000. This initial estimate includes $225,000 for modular classrooms; about $98,000 for access points for wireless; $50,000 for locker rooms; and $15,000 for signage.
Phase two, or making basic upgrades to accommodate grades 7-12 at the Larwill campus, is estimated to cost $9.1 million. This initial estimate includes $5 million for HVAC updates; $1.5 million for audiovisual system throughout the building (intercom, bell system, cameras, etc.); $1.5 million for space for metals/welding/agriculture classes; $528,000 for art classrooms; $300,000 for a weight room; $150,000 for parking; $56,000 for new lockers; $50,000 for a secure entrance; and $30,000 for signage.
A presentation by Whitko superintendent Steve Clason outlined three available funding mechanisms: general obligation bonds for funding needs less than $5 million; petition/remonstrance process for funding needs $5-10 million; and referendum for funding needs more than $10 million.
For phase one, the board could do a general obligation bond for up to $700,000 in May, securing funds for the first year of consolidation.
To fund phase two at the Larwill campus, the school corporation could move forward with the petition/remonstrance process. The process could begin as early as May and the results of the race would be known in October. If it passes, bonds would be issued, the design process would begin, and then construction would take place. Under this scenario, students could be consolidated at the Larwill campus as early as January 2021.
If it fails to pass, the school corporation can’t try again for one year.
Funding future phases at the Larwill campus such as a large athletic facility would require a referendum. The earliest it could appear on a ballot (without a special election funded by the school corporation) is November 2018. If it passes, such a project could be complete as early as January 2021.
If a referendum fails, the school corporation can’t try again for two years.
School officials stressed that several funding scenarios exist depending on phasing. Clason said school board members don’t want to raise the tax rate to fund the consolidation.
“The whole point is we want to keep it level or down from what it is,” Clason said.
If phased correctly, Whitko could bond up to $24 million without raising taxes, said Michelle Babcock, director of financial operations. This is possible because a substantial amount of debt will fall off in 2019 and 2020, she said.
The Whitko Community School Corp. board of trustees will meet again for a regular session March 19.